Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lessons on Leadership

Is there anything strange when leaders such as President Joyce Banda behave in a strange way? Other than the nice woman she used to be when she was Malawi's estranged Vice-President- a woman who could call journalists on the phone just to say, "How are you doing?"- to the Joyce Banda she has become: quick to anger, arrogant, Mrs-Know-It-All! I argue that there is nothing new and strange with that.

That's what power does. It takes away freedom from one's original personality, one's thought-after actions, and one's relished dreams. Power creates a smaller world than
the orb of ordinary folks and, to make matters worse, this World of Power is so small that it lacks a past and a future; it only considers the present! To those in power, the present has a permanence which a five-year term in office has very little power to modify.

That explains, perhaps, why people we held in high esteem not so long ago suddenly turn into 'enemies' of everything that has a semblance of sanity. We all know of cases where church elders have turned against the truth because, suddenly, they have realised that it pains. Or, to give a more sober example, we have seen advocates of press freedom and freedom of expression turn against the same, and gag those who dare
express themselves privately.

That is power. It turns people into monsters. It beats me that these people (the victims of power) do not realise that present fame will, not far from now, be a relic of pleasant times past! It is strange that they fail to understand that intoxication with present fame is a prelude of pains to come.

Not that this is a new phenomenon. No. As far back as 1590, essayist Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626) aptly observed, in his essay Of Seditions and Troubles, thus: "The best actions of a state, and the most plausible, and which ought to give greatest contentment, are taken in ill sense, and traduced: for that shows the envy great, as Tacitus saith, conflata magna invidia, seu bene seu male gesta premunt (when great ill is kindled against the government, both good and evil actions are oppressive)".

The only surprising thing, therefore, is that our leaders do not want to learn from history. It is important to learn from history for reasons Scottish philosopher, historian, economist and essayist David Hume (1711 - 1776) best describes in his essay, Of The Study of History. "There is also an advantage in that expeience which is acquired by history above what is learned by the practice of the world, that it brings us acquainted with human affairs, without diminishing in the least from the most delicate sentiments of virtue."

Historians such as Hume acknowledge that even the fierce Machiavelli was "sobered" by history's lessons. Writes Hume: "Machiavelli himself discovers a true sentiment of virtue in his history of Florence. When he talks as a politician, in his general reasonings, he considers poisoning, assassination and perjury as lawful arts of power; but when he speaks as a historian, in his particular narrations, he shows so
keen an indignation against vice, and so warm an approbation of virtue, in many passages, that I could not forbear applying to him that remark of Horace, that 'if you chase away nature, though with ever so great indignity, she will always return upon you'.

But that, too, is not strange; that's what power does. The Greek philosopher, Plutarch (c. 46 - 120) said power does to a leader what goods- loaded to one side- do to a boat. In the end, says Plutarch, it (the boat) "leans to one side, it is as a boat that is overthrown by uneven weight on the one side; as was well seen in the time of Henry the Third of France; for first himself entered league for the
extirpation of the Protestants; and presently after the same league was turned upon himself. For when the authority of princes is made but an accessory to a cause, and that there be other bands that tie faster than the band of sovereignty, kings begin to be put almost out of possession.

To which Francis Bacon adds: "Also, when discords, and quarrels, and factions are carried openly and audaciously, it is a sign the reverence of government is lost."

This notwithstanding, not all anger or discord is counterproductive. As the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace rightly observed the other 'hot' day, "holy anger" is justifiable (even when expressed by those intoxicated by power), so long as they utilise it to promote everything which is ornamental to the lives of Malawians advancing towards their perfection!

But, still, people seek power. People like JB.

They don't care that it makes them strangers to themselves!

Why they cling to their strange-self, nobody knows. But the solution to their artificial anger and sense of self-importance is in sight: History.

If President Joyce Banda took history, and its array of lessons, seriously, she would have come across Bacon's article, Of Great Place, and learned thus: "The vices of authority are chiefly four: delays, corruption, roughness, and facility.

"For delays; give easy access; keep times appointed; go through with that which is in hand, and interlace not business but of necessity.

"For corruption; do not only bind thine own hands or thy servants'hands from taking, but bind the hands of suitors also from offering. And avoid not only the fault, but the suspicion. Whoever is found variable, and changeth manifestly without manifest cause, giveth suspicion of corruption. Therefore always when thou changest thine opinion or course, profess it plainly, and declare it, together with reasons that move thee to change; and do not think to steal it. A servant or a favourite, if he be inward, and no other apparent cause of esteem, is commonly thought but a byway to close corruption.

"For roughness; it is a needless cause of discontent: severity breedeth fear, but roughness breedeth hate. Even reproofs from authority ought to be grave, and not taunting.

"As for facility; it is worse than bribery. For bribes come but now and then; but if importunity or idle respects lead a man, he shall never be without. As Solomon saith, 'To respect persons is not good; for such a man will transgress for a piece of bread'. And it showeth some to the better, and some to the worse. For honour is, or should be, the place of virtue; and as in nature things move violently to their place and calmly in their place, so virtue in ambition is violent, in authority settled and calm."

"Use the memory of thy predecessor fairly and tenderly; for if though dost not, it is a debt will sure be paid when thou art gone. Be not too sensible or too remembering of thy place in conversation and private answers to suitors; but let it rather be said, "When he (she) sits in place, he (she) is another man (woman)".

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