DX4 Topic 5 - The Average Quality of Leadership Never Improves - Why?

Saturday 29 August 2020, 3pm - 5pm

Venue:  - Cafe Brunelli, 187 Rundle St · Adelaide

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding

Focus Questions

1. Do you agree with the topic title, " The Average Quality of Leadership Never Improves". Why/why not?

2. How does political leadership differ in its requirements from business leadership and military leadership?

3. What qualities and attitudes do most people lack which prevent them from becoming leaders?

4. Under what conditions would you seek out some kind of leadership role? How would you go about it?

5. Can the selection of leaders for high office really be regulated? Is selection by popular vote a credible way to regulate the selection of quality leaders? Is a lifelong selection process through an organization like the Communist Party of China a reliable way to select high quality leaders? Is selection by an elite oligarchy, like the rich oligarchs in Russia a reliable way select high quality leaders? What about selection by a religious council, as in Iran? Or tribal bargaining, as in Papua New Guinea?

6. Putting ideology aside, what has been the historical track record of different countries in producing effective political leaderships? What criteria would you use in this judgement?

7. The path to high leadership in most jurisdictions seems to require a degree of ruthlessness (yes, in democracies too). Ruthlessness does not necessarily predict the quality of leadership in actual office. When is ruthlessness (even recklessness) a barrier to effective leadership?

8. Do you believe that educational background has any bearing on the quality of leadership shown by different types of leaders? [A subset of this question is whether honest educational achievement makes a difference. For example, Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor and one of the world's most successful leaders, has a (genuine) PhD in quantum chemistry. Trump is known to have cheated to get into Wharton Business School (info. from his niece and sister). Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are both believed to have put political pressure on academic supervisors to be granted doctorates].

9. It could be said that Donald Trump has held up a mirror to the United States of America (as much as a whole population can be generalized about). How do the customs, habits, education and abilities of the mass of ordinary people shape the kind of leadership that a country is governed with?

10. What is your definition of an ideal political leader? An ideal company leader? An ideal volunteer organization leader? An ideal military leader? The ideal leader of a large hospital? The ideal leader of an educational institution?


Extra Reading, Comments & Links

James Massola (14 August 2020) "Man of Contradictions: Joko book a warning to Australia about a pragmatic president". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/asia/man-of-contradictions-joko-book-a-warning-to-australia-about-a-pragmatic-president-20200812-p55kyx.html  [Thor, comment: This is important. Joko Widodo is important to us. It is hard to get Australians to think about anything not local, but we have 270 milion people right next door who think about the world in a radically different way, and who down the track could be a massive problem for us if things go wrong. Joko Widodo's style of leadership has to reflect the Indonesian reality. And so it is with every different culture]

Wikipedia (2020) "List of Current Heads of State and Government" @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_current_heads_of_state_and_government

Hsin-Yi Cohen (November 1, 2017) "Leadership Styles in Different Nations" Leadership Expert blog @ http://www.leadershipexpert.co.uk/leadership-styles-different-nations.html

Paul Taylor (25 March 2020) "Coronavirus brings out best (and worst) in world leaders - If a crisis is a test of character, not everyone has passed it". Politico @ https://www.politico.eu/article/coronavirus-brings-out-best-and-worst-in-world-leaders/

David Carlin (Oct 18, 2019) "Democratic, Authoritarian, Laissez-Faire: What Type Of Leader Are You?" Forbes @ https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidcarlin/2019/10/18/democratic-authoritarian-laissez-faire-what-type-of-leader-are-you/#2b1fd7332a6b

Richard Maloney (07 August 2020) "Seven types of leaders for the new world". Human Resources Director website @ https://www.hcamag.com/au/specialisation/leadership/seven-types-of-leaders-for-the-new-world/230159

Benjamin F. Jones And Benjamin A. Olken (February 2005) “Do Leaders Matter? - National Leadership And Growth Since World War II” Quarterly Journal of Economics, previewed @ https://economics.mit.edu/files/2915

Thor May (2014) "What will be the dominant ideologies of the 21st Century?" The Passionate Skeptic website @ http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/Ideology21stCentury2.htm  [Quote: "The 20th Century revolved politically around competing interpretations of Capitalism, Communism, Socialism and Fascism. These are all ways to organize the lives of people on a large scale. Are real alternatives or new interpretations likely to emerge in the challenging years ahead? What might they look like?"]

Colum Lynch, Robbie Gramer, Darcy Palder (July 31, 2020) "Inside the Massive Foreign-Policy Team [about 2000 people] Advising Biden’s Campaign". Foreign Policy magazine @ https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/31/inside-biden-campaign-foreign-policy-team/  [Thor, comment: effective leadership in big organizations needs more than a charismatic leader. In large countries especially (such as USA or China) there have to be many, many layers of specialist experts to plan and integrate complex decisions. Without those layers of expertise governance becomes chaotic, fragile and self-contradictory. However at the retail end of politics (whatever the marketing ideology) the bulk of the general public never has the interest or expertise to grasp complex governance. Hence the talk of 'the deep state', 'the swamp', 'conspiracy' etc. which a populist leader can exploit by offering simple, unworkable answers to really complicated situations. We have seen the catastrophic outcome of that kind of populism in USA over the last four years. The people directing the Trump administration are opportunists who would never qualify for a decent job in any professional administration, Democratic or Republican.]

Yew Lun Tian (August 18, 2020 ) "Chinese academic disciplined after calling Xi Jinping a 'mafia boss'". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/asia/chinese-academic-disciplined-after-calling-xi-jinping-a-mafia-boss-20200818-p55mot.html  [Quote: A retired Chinese professor who called President Xi Jinping a "mafia boss" and the ruling Communist Party a "political zombie" has been disciplined, according to her former employer, the latest such critic to face punishment in recent months. .. Cai Xia, who had taught democratic politics at the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party before retiring, is the third prominent figure in recent months to be disciplined after criticising the party and its leader]

Lily Kuo [in Beijing] (18 August 2020) "'He killed a party and a country': a Chinese insider hits out at Xi Jinping - An edited transcript of an interview with Cai Xia, who was expelled from the Communist party on Monday - Xi facing widespread opposition in his own party, insider claims". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/18/cai-xia-chinese-insider-hits-out-at-xi-jinping-he-killed-a-party-and-a-country

Peter Hartcher (3 July 2020) "Scott Morrison is not going to duck this crisis". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/scott-morrison-is-not-going-to-duck-this-crisis-20200703-p558w5.html  [Quote: "The last prime minister to begin a term in such low public regard was almost half a century ago. The Liberals’ Malcolm Fraser was tainted by the way he came to power, forcing the constitutional crisis that precipitated the sacking of Gough Whitlam. Yet today Morrison basks in popularity only exceeded once in the 25-year history of Newspoll. With an approval rating of 68 per cent, he’s second only to Rudd a decade ago, before Labor began the demolition of its leader."]

Dmitry Trenin (18 August 2020) "Game Over for Lukashenko [President of Belarus]: the Kremlin's Next Move". Moscow Times @ https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/08/18/game-over-for-lukashenko-the-kremlins-next-move-a71180  [Thor, comment: For those unfamiliar with Belarus, it is the Slavic state closest to Russian culture, language and politics. It's leader has been called "Europe's last dictator", but in his latest sham election, deluded by a sense of invulnerability, he seems to have overplayed his hand. There has been a genuine popular uprising with calls for real democracy. This is anathema to Putin in Moscow, but Putin, unlike Trump, is capable of strategic thinking and may be reluctant to invade. Interesting times.]

Uri Friedman (April 19, 2020) "New Zealand’s Prime Minister May Be the Most Effective Leader on the Planet - Jacinda Ardern’s leadership style, focused on empathy, isn’t just resonating with her people; it’s putting the country on track for success against the coronavirus". The Atlantic magazine @ https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/04/jacinda-ardern-new-zealand-leadership-coronavirus/610237/

ian beutler [comments] - wonderful, relevant topics, again, THor. I do wish "we" cd get you on some kind of nationally - ( & genuinely ) INDEPENDENTLY-sponsored Think-Tank !! I may recommend you to Crikey, if you don't mind. I think you'd like them.. Other than this, in general terms, of course, on the topic of "leadership" the best quote, for me, is "For three things the earth doth tremble: The first is for the servant, when s)he reigneth"... (Prov. 30.21.)

Sidney Blumenthal (23 August 2020) "How Donald Trump canceled the Republican party - The convention will be a ghastly reminder of what happened to the party of Lincoln – even as it desperately grabs for his mantle". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/aug/23/how-donald-trump-canceled-republican-party-sidney-blumenthal-lincoln  [Thor, comment: One never-failing technique of wannabe political leaders is that they will quote famous historical figures (and god(s)) in support of their cause. It really doesn't matter whether or not the historical figure was for or against the politician's argument. Only a tiny minority of listeners will ever say, "hey wait a minute, X never said that". In the USA, Abraham Lincoln is a kind of holy icon who has been misquoted enthusiatically by every brand of politician, often in the same breath as they misquote the Christian Bible.]

Zachery Tyson Brown (August 20, 2020) "America’s Crumbling Strategy Needs (Literally) Machiavellian Answers - The Italian philosopher saw the power of technology and change". Foreign Policy Magazine @ https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/08/20/america-crumbling-strategy-needs-machiavellian-answers/  [Thor, comment: Machiavelli is known best for his slim, utterly cynical volume of political advice, "The Prince". However, this was at the end of his career, and post-prison. Some even interpret it as a revenge satire. His real insights (and practical political career) are found in his much more extensive writings on republicanism. "He seems to have intuitively grasped that states were technologies that security communities could use to protect and advance their shared interests. He argued that the feudal principalities that composed the ordino [normal order of things] of his day were obsolete and advocated for the creation of a new, post-feudal political structure better able to solve the strategic problems Florence faced [in the 1500s] ... Despite being well aware of the corruption inside the system, he believed it well worth defending—and reforming. "Understanding that republics were fragile to begin with, he knew that those who allowed their institutions to atrophy and grow outdated were more fragile still—and thus likelier to fail. He believed Florence had to adopt systemic administrative reforms to modernize its apparatus of government. It needed, he argued, a professional cadre to serve as permanent ambassadors to represent the republic’s interest abroad. It needed educated officials who could manage the complex financial interests of a modern city-state. It needed strong, independent institutions that ensured continuity of long-term policies between successive rulers and that could cement alliances that would outlast an individual’s whim."]

=> ian beutler [comments] You really are a brilliant stirrer, Thor. YOu know yr question itself is an oxymoron!
How ever could Mister Average lead?
Observe what arises from egalitarian seed:
A Whitlam, witless, would level all
To a smooth playing field for a ball,
Whereby, to an ancient art doth fall,
In a grandiose delusion for all.
Yet where does Man's Family
find a place,
To live to the full? - but in a valley of grace, -
Or even upon a hill with a lake,
Upon uneven ground as Nature could make..

=> Thor May - I see that you are a feudalist at heart Ian. So would you be the serf, or lord of the manor? Yes, we are each gifted differently, some with a capacity to lead, some not. Such latent qualities are not predictably inherited. The hard task of good governance is to offer some equality of opportunity so that each can reach his or her best potential, and be rewarded fairly (but not extravagantly). Without that basic equality of opportunity you set the scene for resentment, revolt, then eventually a culture of crime and corruption from street thugs to presidents. Visit any number of failing countries to witness those consequences. "How could Mr Average lead?" => In a multitude of ways. By inherited privilege, by the choice of confused and deceived electors, through selection by elites who can manipulate Mr Average but perhaps not an exceptional individual, or even by a lucky accident of time and place. Have you really found that through history countries, or religions, or organizations ... have mostly been led by the most talented individuals of their generation? I don't think so. Sometimes yes, but more often not.

=> Bryn Williams [comments] - As Ian suggests one problem with the question is by definition 'averaging' removes the worst and best to a midpoint. Unfortunately what the question does imply is that 'leadership' is often confused to imply power and position. I'd suggest true leadership may have both but is not created by them rather ultimately is a response to inspiring encouragement and direction exemplified by example. I've been fortunate enough to have worked under a couple of outstanding 'leaders' who neither coerced or controlled but were given total loyalty and support because of the validity of their vision and clarity of purpose. Could be contentious here and cite Christ who had neither power or position but demonstrated leadership which changed lives and the world for two thousand years ( got bastardised by the institutionalisation and politicalisation of the Catholic church in the middle ages but that's another debate!!).

=> ian beutler [comments] - You've busted me, Thor. But my story would take more space than these little boxes. At least there was no need to be out of work or homeless with feudalism. A stable might serve as a shelter, & there were always dirty dishes to be cleaned, not to mention those stables. I Iive in less now. Hercules seemed to achieve diSTINK..erm distinction. It was under "liberalism" that hypocrisy reaches it's zenith of economic development & nadir of moral depravity. Witness the "Sixth Great Extinction of species." Surely a proud distinction. Bryn's nuances of interpretation suggest further exploration.

=> Thor May [comments] - Yes of course 'average + leadership' begs the question of what either word applies to. If we think of a bell curve, the average of anything human tends to move with each generation - the bulge shifts. My question was about 'average + quality', so then we have to decide what quality means. I was aware of these semantics. My own take is that leaders are often confined by those whom they lead. A great leader in Indonesian culture, or Russian culture, might drown in a sea of trouble amongst Australians. Also, if life teaches us anything it seems to be that people's judgements about words like these are all over the place (look at elections) until they are hit between the eyes with a specific consequence of specific actions appied to a specific issue. For example, the convid virus is coldly indifferent to your politics. You play by its rules or gamble with death. In that particular context, worldwide it is pretty obvious that some leaders have been more successful at keeping people alive than others. In that context they are better leaders. As for Jesus Christ, Bryn, I'm not sure that he was such a hit as a leader in his lifetime, or written off as another nut case. We weren't there before history was rewritten in the Bible. But yes, his advertised values can have great power if honestly applied. Ian, I don't know if you use "liberalism" with its wacky Australian political meaning, or the very different (but vague) dictionary sense. When it comes to species extinction, we are all players in big ways and small.

=> ian beutler [comments] - .. and thank you, Sir, kindly leader of thought in sthoz.. for taking my bait.. & yes, who, even ""Labor" could protest very much at Mill's brand, - from as moderate a man as ever could be, surely, excepting the most rabid? I still reckon Machiavelli had it all sewn up.. in theory at any rate ...

Anna Patty (15 June 2018) "Losing our way: How the cult of the KPI has damaged our moral compass". https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/workplace/losing-our-way-how-the-cult-of-the-kpi-has-damaged-our-moral-compass-20180612-p4zl29.html  [Thor, comment: KPI = 'key performance indicator'. These things are formally found throughout industry, education and government to incentivize both staff and management. They attach a score to certain actions or outcomes (e.g. increasing profit). They are also massively misused and a source of endless corruption. e.g. Victoria's police were given quotas for breath testing so blew up breath testing bags themselves. Executive bonuses are tied to KPIs which often incentivize bad behaviour. The most potent KPIs of course are political votes, which are supposed to incentivize politicians & leaders to serve the people, but often incentivize them to behave badly.]

Jeff Stibel (December 11, 2009) "Why Wise Leaders Don’t Know Too Much". HBR website @ https://hbr.org/2009/12/why-wise-leaders-dont-know

Waleed Aly (28 August 2020) "Trump's strongman routine has finally failed him". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/north-america/trump-s-strongman-routine-has-finally-failed-him-20200827-p55psl.html

Daniel Markovits [Professor at Yale Law School] (September 2019) "How Life Became an Endless, Terrible Competition - Meritocracy prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. Maybe there’s a way out". The Atlantic magazine @ https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/09/meritocracys-miserable-winners/594760/  [Quote : "Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale collectively enroll more students from households in the top 1 percent of the income distribution than from households in the bottom 60 percent. Legacy preferences, nepotism, and outright fraud continue to give rich applicants corrupt advantages. But the dominant causes of this skew toward wealth can be traced to meritocracy. On average, children whose parents make more than $200,000 a year score about 250 points higher on the SAT than children whose parents make $40,000 to $60,000. Only about one in 200 children from the poorest third of households achieves SAT scores at Yale’s median. Meanwhile, the top banks and law firms, along with other high-paying employers, recruit almost exclusively from a few elite colleges. .... We are accustomed to thinking that reducing inequality requires burdening the rich. But because meritocratic inequality does not in fact serve anyone well, escaping meritocracy’s trap would benefit virtually everyone."]

Michael Steinberger (3 November 2018) " George Soros on the new world disorder. His enemies paint him as all-powerful, but the billionaire philanthropist believes his political legacy has never been in greater jeopardy". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/north-america/george-soros-on-the-new-world-disorder-20181030-p50cua.html  [Thor, comment: I find leaders like George Soros and Bill Gates interesting. Self-made billionaires are more defined by their individuality than having things in common. You can't run a management course on being like Soros or Gates (though countless idiot MBa programs do just that). Their leadership is unique in each case. One consequence they do seem to suffer, especially when they try to do good, is the enmity of entrenched interests, populist politicians and conspiracy theorists who set out to (successfully) spread poison. That's interesting in itself].

Candice (November 10, 2019) "You are not a gun for hire". Legal Brew website @ https://legalbrew.com.au/blog/you-are-not-a-gun-for-hire/  [Quote: "Based on an experiment by Professor Dan Ariely, covered in his book 'The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty', crash courses in morality do not seem to have any effect after two weeks ... “One survey of young lawyers in New South Wales concluded that ‘billing pressure is pushing many young lawyers to fudge their time sheets. Only 38 per cent of respondents said they always recorded their time accurately, citing billing pressure from senior staff’. It seems from this study that 62% of young lawyers in New South Wales have lied at least once in billing their client."" ]

Dima Vorobiev, ['I worked for Soviet propaganda'] (Dec 13, 2018) "Would Putin's Russia really have employed such a seeming buffoon as Maria Butina for intelligence work? - Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina admits to engaging in conspiracy against US". Quora.com @ https://www.quora.com/Would-Putins-Russia-really-have-employed-such-a-seeming-buffoon-as-Maria-Butina-for-intelligence-work  [Quote: "The case of Maria Butina is quite typical for the Putinist era in Russian politics. President Putin has a peculiar style of leadership. Here is how it goes.

- Unless situation requires a hands-on, direct response, Putin prefers to give very vague, ambiguous directions, letting his people guess what exactly he expects them to do.

- There is much parallelism built in the system of Russian government. Cutthroat competition between rival teams is encouraged to show who is better at picking up President’s hints and acting on .

- A whole lot of wannabes on the lower rungs in the system are also eager to join the fray and get noticed by President
As a result, much grassroots initiative is generated, most of it nonsensical and amateurish, but some well-thought, well-funded and backed by serious shakers and movers

- This wave of initiative gives plenty of room for a meritocratic selection of new talents that sets off the increasing stagnation of the settled hierarchies and patronage inside our state-oligarchical system.

- This also gives President several layers of insulation and plausible deniability, in case something goes wrong and blows up in the face of the project managers.

- To me, Maria Butina’s attempts to peddle influence in the US on behalf of Aleksandr Torsin seems to be a classic case of such a grassroot initiative".]

Martin Parker (27 April 2018) "Why we should bulldoze the business school - There are 13,000 business schools on Earth. That’s 13,000 too many. And I should know – I’ve taught in them for 20 years." The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/apr/27/bulldoze-the-business-school

Anonymous (11 Feb 2017) "What I’m really thinking: the firing manager". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/feb/11/what-im-really-thinking-firing-manager

David Tuffley (February 27, 2017) "How to manage self-motivated, intelligent workers - Knowledge workers hate being micromanaged". The Conversation @ https://theconversation.com/how-to-manage-self-motivated-intelligent-workers-72668

Cal Newport (October 3rd, 2018) "On the Law of Diminishing Specialization". Cal Newport blog @ http://calnewport.com/blog/2018/10/03/on-the-law-of-diminishing-specialization/  [Quote: "Beginning in 1985, Sassone began a series of twenty office productivity case studies spread over different departments in five major U.S. corporations. His initial goal was to measure the bottomline benefits of the front office computer systems that were new at the time, but as he notes, this soon changed: “[I]t became apparent that [my] data collection and analysis techniques were yielding important productivity insights beyond the cost justification of office computer systems.” ... Deploying a technique called work value analysis, Sassone measured not only the amount of work conducted by his subjects, but also the skill level required for the work. He found that managers and other skilled professionals were spending surprisingly large percentages of their time working on tasks that could be completed by comparably lower-level employees... He identified several factors that explain this observation, but a major culprit was the rise of “productivity-enhancing” computer systems"]

Ron Carucci (October 26, 2016) "Make Strategic Thinking Part of Your Job". HBR website @ https://hbr.org/2016/10/make-strategic-thinking-part-of-your-job  [Quote: "It’s a common complaint among top executives: “I’m spending all my time managing trivial and tactical problems, and I don’t have time to get to the big-picture stuff.” And yet when I ask my executive clients, “If I cleared your calendar for an entire day to free you up to be ‘more strategic,’ what would you actually do?” most have no idea. I often get a shrug and a blank stare in response". ]

Manifesto for responsive organizations (n.d.) Responsive.org website @ http://www.responsive.org/manifesto  [Quote: "There’s a reason we’ve run organizations the way we have. Our old Command and Control operating model was well-suited for complicated and predictable challenges. Some of these challenges still exist today and may respond to the industrial-era practices that we know so well. However, as the pace of change accelerates, the challenges we face are becoming less and less predictable. Those practices that were so successful in the past are counter-productive in less predictable environments. In contrast, Responsive Organizations are designed to thrive in less predictable environments by balancing the following tensions:

More Predictable <-> Less Predictable
Profit <-> Purpose
Hierarchies <-> Networks
Controlling <-> Empowering
Planning <-> Experimentation
Privacy <-> Transparency ]



Index of past discussion topics & questions: http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/DiscussionTopics/DiscussionIndex.htm

Convenor : Thor May thormay@yahoo.com Personal website (legacy) http://thormay.net
Articles http://independent.academia.edu/thormay  (.. about 147 articles by Thor)


The Average Quality of Leadership Never Improves - Why? (c) Thor May 2020 

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