We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, July 8, 2013

Real Leaders Know When to Give Up

In a recent op-ed posting entitled, "Five Reasons 'Kicking the Can' Leadership Leads to Disaster," Thom Rainer writes, "Real leaders find ways to work with others. Real leaders accept responsibility instead of blaming others."  His subject is leadership in Washington, and in the posting he voices the same frustrations with D. C. politics that so many Americans have become unhappy with.  I was particularly struck, however, by his statement about "real leaders" just quoted.  It requires modification.

Those who seek to exercise responsible leadership seek to work with others when those others can be worked with.  Working with others requires a certain level of trust, however modest.  Working with others requires a certain level of willingness to be worked with.  Blame for dysfunctional relationships is not necessarily symmetrical as can be testified to by large numbers of abused spouses and children.  Leaders do not have control over many of the factors that limit their effectiveness, including whether or not other leaders are willing to work with them.  In our current political climate, there is a set of influential individuals for whom the very idea of compromise is anathema.  They will not be worked with, and it is their fault that they will not compromise even for a greater good—if fault is to be found.

"Real leaders" thus accept responsibility for their own actions and the degree to which they make a full-faith effort to work with others.  They do not own a dysfunctional relationship they tried to make work to the best of their ability.  "Real leaders" also understand that there are others with whom they should not work under any circumstances.  One of the things an ethical leader has to learn is who can be worked with and who cannot, who can be trusted and who cannot.  An effective leader, in sum, won't buy into absolute, dogmatic statements about "real leaders."  As with most things in life, effective leadership is complicated and requires wisdom rather than axioms.  Rainer's axiom concerning "real leaders" assumes that such leaders are always in control of the situations they face, and that is seldom true.

Dr. Rainer's statement should thus be modified to read, "Effective leaders find ways either to work with or, if necessary, work around others.  Effective leaders accept responsibility for their own actions in light of the real world situations they face.  Finger pointing is another issue entirely."