I remember remarking to a friend a few months ago that there doesn’t seem to be any time to sit down and talk anymore. Remember those days back in high school where you could call anyone, anytime, and have a heart to heart discussion on anything? Of course, in those high school days, the topic of conversation was more likely to be about the latest movie than the philosophies of life, but it still happened on occasion.
The Saturday seminar on leadership that I’ve been attending seems like it solves that problem: from 12 to 2 on Saturdays, I can guarantee that I will be surrounded with 15 or so other motivated, diverse people that will talk about interesting stuff. It’s like being part of a hand-picked think thank except the issue that we’re thinking about is, quite often, leadership. It’s “facilitated” by our “guru” (my own choice of title, not hers), but the conversation is quite organic and fulfilling.
Our first topic a few weeks ago revolved around finding a definition of a leader. It got to be an intense discussion about the qualities that leaders possess, qualities that they don’t possess, and all kinds of other things. Hitler came up, of course — what would a good conversation about leadership be without him? At the end of the session, our guru left us with this piece of knowledge:
Leadership Rule #1: Leaders always have the initiative.
The words “have” and “initiative” are the two key words and chosen very precisely, I came to understand; however, I think their importance is easily discerned with a little thought.
I tend to enjoy playing devil’s advocate in a lot of situations. It’s not that I necessarily like to shoot people’s ideas down. I do it often in my own analysis of situations and problems that I have to solve. In my analytical mind, I can’t be sure of a solution until I’ve attacked it from all sides and am relatively sure it’ll stand.
This was easy to do for most of the discussion about leadership qualities. Someone asserts that a definitive characteristic of a leader is that they act morally, even in the face of negative consequences. OK, well… I can think of plenty of leaders that don’t act morally. Someone else asserts that a leader must make choices that benefit the most people (hi, utilitarianism!). That certainly doesn’t fit my definition of a leader and, judging based on the various competing ethical philosophies, I’m not the only one.
But “leaders always have the initiative”… that’s a hard rule to argue against.
The one thing that really strikes me about this view of a leader is that it’s not something that can be taken by force. It’s something that has to be given. Maybe not always entirely willingly, but it does have to be given.
Initiative implies that there is more than just the leader sitting in a vacuum. If there is just one person, initiative is meaningless – you don’t have initiative over anything or anybody else. The only thing you could possibly have initiative over is yourself, in which case you’re really fighting conflicting ideas within yourself; whether you do something or not is completely up to you. (insert entire series of blog posts on the difference between “you” and “your mind,” to be tackled at some other point)
So, if there’s more than one person, the other people have to be willing to give up their initiative and follow you. Otherwise you won’t have initiative and won’t be a leader.
In ye olden days, it was probably a lot simpler and very well defined: monarchs had the ultimate in initiative, aristocrats less so, etc etc, down to the peasants who very rarely held initiative within their society. Nowadays, in the myriad groups and roles that we play, it seems a lot murkier to figure out who has initiative. And it’s something that is given to you by default less and less.
Now, you have to earn it.
It seems like capitalism runs rampant in our world even when the capital is initiative.
I hope the earning of initiative is something that we discuss in our Saturday seminar, as it has a whole bunch of interesting questions wrapped up into it. It rather reminds me of The Prince. They say Hitler kept it on his nightstand. Since it has a lot to do with gaining — and keeping – initiative, I can see why.