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The Missing Piece : Thinking

March 28, 2010

Deresiewicz states in his lecture to the United States Military Academy which was printed in The American Scholar in the Spring issue of 2010 that there is a rise in mediocrity, multi-tasking is bad, and that solitude & thinking are needed in leadership. The following excerpt from the article “Solitude and Leadership” sums up the dire need for individuals that have more than what is expected of them.

We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of exper­tise. What we don’t have are leaders.

What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. People who can formulate a new direction: for the country, for a corporation or a college, for the Army—a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at things. People, in other words, with vision. (Deresiewicz, 2010)

I agree with the lecturer in many respects and here is my synopsis of the short and long term implications for either the “normal” or the “visionary” leader.

The normal leader, for a lack of a better term, is someone who when in a position to lead, continues to move the apparatus of the machine of the organization along exactly in the same manner as it has behaved in the past. Thus, these normal leaders are promoted and placed in such leadership positions as Deresievicz states again and again.

In the short term, these automatons are good for the organizations that they lead. They understand a set formula and know exactly how to replicate the results through actions considered good in the past. Predictability in the case of running organizations, especially large ones, is one of the ways to keep costs and liabilities low. There are certainly some lessons in leadership, management, and over all coordination which transcend time and space and must be utilized time and time again. However, the short-sightedness of only replicating the success of the last cycle can be the death of companies, organizations, and campaigns.

  1. Xerox Palo Alto Research Center ( PARC ) invented many of the modern tools we use today such as Ethernet, Email, Mouse, & Laser Printing. The senior executives thought that the release of a graphical user interface would cut into copy machine sales. Who knew?
  2. Toyota helped GM with their manufacturing process with NUMMI, but GM had too much pride to implement changes. The attachment to an age old management vs. labor fight continued until the company had to evolve. But was too late. Who knew?

These companies still survive. That is all they do. IF they had listened to their thinkers or had thinking leaders, both GM and Xerox could be thriving. But that is not the fate of dull minded organizations. In the long term such companies die a slow and painful death which comes from prideful ignorance of the better, the vision of a better future.

The Bridge

The visionary leader is by definition one that sees what others don’t. They tend to think for themselves and their group with advice and without. The thought processes of such people are not like others because for them there is a wariness which causes them to see how to do what is being done better. Our country, America is a place where visionaries are encouraged through freedom to express their vision in action.The back jacket of the new book “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama” has a quote that exemplifies this environment.

America : a nation where destiny is defined by individuals keen to imagine a future that is different from the reality of their own lives.

What is the balance of the status quo and the destiny that we choose to make it? What is satisfactory? What is good enough to stay perpetually, and what is it that needs to change? Surely we see throughout the course of human history, that change is constant, and although there are certain traditions and ideals that we hold dear and maintain constancy with, there is a daunting world of the future which beckons us to see more than one step ahead, to look beyond the horizon of time and ask, where do we want to go?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Alleah Alazhar permalink
    July 15, 2010 12:59 am

    Insightful and true. I think that the lack of true Leadership has lead humanity into a void where all manner of chaos is being created. Doing the same thing in a different way and calling it innovation is going to have to be transformed. We must transform our thinking, our being and the way we see ourselves and each other. As we do this, allowing time for thinking and solitude, conversation and inclusion, leaders of all sorts can move towards creating harmony, profitability and responsibility with our, businisses, communities and most of all, within ourselves.

    Thank you for this thought provoking article.
    A.C. Alazhar

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