Thursday, January 15, 2009

In Praise of Selfishness - Part II

Besides taking care of yourself, leadership requires selfishness in another, very different way. You have to believe in what you are doing, totally committed to your purpose, absorbed by it, willing to sacrifice other important, but not as important purposes in its behalf. It is easy to confuse unappealing over-weaning ego or sheer stubbornness with the confidence and commitment that is necessary to exercise leadership and mobilize people to face up to difficult issues. But if you are not steadfast in this way, you will be easily discouraged by the resistance that you will generate and you will undermine your capacity for mobilizing others, once they sense your own ambivalence.

When we talk about commitment to purpose in our consulting and teaching, some self-effacing folks will often ask, "How can I be so sure that I am right?" or "Why is my Purpose more important than anyone else's purpose?

Our response suggests the great paradox of leadership. One the one hand, you need to be totally committed. On the other hand, and at the same time, you need to be open to the possibility that you are dead wrong. Holding two inconsistent ideas in your head at the same time is not easy. For example there was nothing wrong in itself about former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's belief that a small fighting force could over throw Saddam and manage the transition in Iraq. He got the total commitment part right. But he failed to be open to the possibility that he was wrong, which he surely was.

There will be tremendous pressures on Barak Obama to display confidence, if not certainty, that his economic stimulus plan will do the trick. If he does not appear to believe in it fully, and actually believe in it fully, no one else will. But if he fails to retain his skepticism, he is likely to miss early warning signals and contraray data that will suggest the need for mid-course corrections.

1 comment:

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