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Reagan, Pyramids & The Te of Piglet

by The Wrinkle | June 18, 2010

While it looks like Sam Stosur was but the first in a series of Aussies pressing the “self destruct” button in recent weeks, namely Kevin Rudd’s new mining tax, the Socceroo’s FIFA World Cup debacle and the outclassed NSW Blues in the State of Origin. That was a great sports bet by the way, $1.45 for Queensland with what always looked like a “slam dunk” result given the form, home game, and the preceding off-field circus. Unfortunately the timing wasn’t quite right for last week's blog.

This week I’d like to delve a little into politics, not to present a “for and against” for party or policy, but rather to use it as an example for a discussion around leadership, and more specifically effective leadership.

One of the dangers of a strong leader, particularly a visionary one is that while they are busily marching off to implement their next goal, they forget to take the team with them. A nice visual way to think of this is to consider an ancient pyramid, these used to have the top 20% or so at the top covered in gold. Now turn that image 90 degrees in your mind, like an arrow head and now visualise the top moving away from the body of the pyramid as its own little arrowhead.

When power is concentrated like this away from the main body, there is an obvious dis-connect and the whole structure comes under threat as its integrity is compromised. Whether this power is concentrated in one person, or for example in what is now commonly called “the gang of 4” in the Australian government (given Kevin Rudd’s Chinese background the irony of this nickname is a nice touch) The flashpoint is the disconnect, and this is where the damage occurs.

Let’s contrast two US presidents by way of further example, everyone knows that when you first go into office there is a honeymoon period and then, over time, for almost everyone their popularity wanes (as the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt).

When Carter went into the Oval office his popularity and approval rating peaked in the early months at 75% and fell away to a low of 28%. Carter was incredibly intelligent, and a very hard worker, he consumed masses of information and made a lot of decisions based on his personal in-depth understanding of issues.

However he only lasted one term, people largely viewed him as too cold and a little aloof. Considering his work since he left office, both of these perceptions would I suggest appear to be flawed.

Now let's consider Reagan who followed Carter into Office, he was a B grade actor with a very warm and affable personality. No one would ever see him winning a quiz show, maybe hosting one, but unlikely to compete. His lowest approval rating was around the mid point or between terms at 35% but he held on and achieved his highest rating of 68% close to the end of his second term. Reagan was renowned for relying very heavily on his aides for direction and advice. Accordingly everyone within the pyramid knew that they could make a contribution and that it was likely to at least be considered on its merits rather than compared to someone’s personal conclusion. In short they felt empowered, because they saw themselves as part of the whole, contributing, and not disconnected.

It’s when people feel disconnected that flashpoints can occur. This applies to all of life; let me give you another small example out of my own experience. I was walking the dog alone the other night and came up behind three teenagers walking the same way as me. Full gear, hoodies, ipods, dead eyes, slow shuffle walk with nowhere to go. As I walked through them an interesting thing happened quietly, slowly and very naturally it seemed. Suddenly I had one person directly in front of one, one shoulder to shoulder on my left, one directly behind me, and a fence on my right. Perfectly boxed in, a wolf pack couldn’t have done it better.

I don’t know their story, but I would suggest that somewhere in their background there was a disconnect with the wider community. Why else would you assume what is effectively a “street smart” hunting/protection layout instinctively when a low threat, single person with a small dog passes. For my part I simply broke the box by crossing the road behind the guy on the left. The Wrinkle is getting too old for fun and games.

In summary, The Wrinkle quote to consider here is, “Any disconnect will ultimately give rise to a flashpoint”. We are all in this thing called 'life' together. If you are a leader and you disconnect you will put your leadership in doubt.

I’d like to finish with an old quote about communication and knowledge, that follows the theme of disconnection vs. wholeness. This one isn’t in Wikipedia; you can, however, find the full quote in “The Te of Piglet” which is the companion book to “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff. The quote is by Chuang-tse who lived around 350BC. There is nothing new under the sun.

“Much knowledge is applied to the making of bows, crossbows, arrows, and slingshots, but the birds in the air are disturbed and injured by it.

Much knowledge is used in making hooks, nets, and other such devices, but the fish in the waters are disturbed and injured by it.

Much knowledge is utilised in the design and placement of traps, meshes, and snares, but the creatures of the ground are disturbed and injured by it.

As knowledge becomes increasingly clever, versatile, and artful, the people all around are disturbed and injured by it.

They then struggle to grasp what they do not know, but make no attempt to grasp what they know already. They condemn the misunderstanding of others, but do not condemn their own. From this more confusion comes.”

Have a good look around you, and how many issues and problems do you see from “artful” communication. Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

Have a good week.

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