Visionary Leaders Vs. Masters Part Two

lostThe inner crisis of a disintegrating society is constituted by the fact that too many people inside this society are not told what to do…
An unemployed man [or a hampered man] is a person who looks for orders and can’t find anybody to give him orders.*

I am a master electrician, although I haven’t worked in the trade for several years now. One thing about working in a trade is that once you’re past being a first year apprentice, your responsibilities on the job are no longer limited to the tool belt. You have to begin training the guys less experienced than you. And once you’re a journeyman, you’ll likely discover that most of your time on the job is teaching and supervising the apprentices.

The number one thing that will stop an apprentice from doing his work is a lack of knowing what to do. It won’t be laziness or apathy. He simply either was not given clear instructions, or he is too overwhelmed with the task before him. And once that happens, he’ll either stall out altogether or begin lying about what he’s actually doing.

I remember working for a company in which the boss (not a very good boss) left an apprentice to run a fairly large job. There were several different areas in one warehouse where electrical work needed to be done. The apprentice had the skills and knowledge to do every job, but he was struggling and falling behind. The boss sent me to help him get back on track. After walking through the job site with the apprentice to see where he was at, he said to me, “There is so much to do, and I just don’t know where to start.”

To remedy the situation, all I needed to do was lay out a systematic task list for him to follow: “Do that job first, because you’re going to need that powered up in order to do the next job. Do that other job next so that we can move this junk into that corner to have space to do the next thing. Next, do such and such…….” Once he knew what to do and in what order, he was back to working at his normal efficient speed.

Visionary leaders are rarely good at creating systematic task lists. Because their leadership style is so rooted in rhetoric, their connection with practical realities is severed. Visionary leaders are often throwing bricks in the air to build the second story of a building for which no proper foundation has been laid.

It is amazing what can be accomplished with mere rhetoric, and as I have written about before, visionary leaders are needed to inspire people at the beginning of a movement. But it is also amazing at how quickly the rhetoric can become completely meaningless. Some things sound good and wise when spoken, and they might even be true, but when you actually stop to ask what the thing said really means and how it applies to real day to day life, it proves to be completely worthless. And when I hear followers of visionary leaders parrot their slogans without thinking, like Winston in 1984 I get a little lonely and depressed.

When a visionary leader sees that his followers aren’t doing what he expects and hopes for them to do, he usually writes them off and says, “They just didn’t catch the vision.” And he might actually be correct, but does he ever ask why? Also, because his expectations are what they are, he usually is only followed by more future visionary leaders, which isn’t always desirable.

master 002
Mark Aspery ~ Blacksmith

A master knows that when his followers are not living up to his expectations, it’s usually because he hasn’t clearly defined what needs to be done at ground level. He hasn’t laid out the systematic task list. He assumes his followers are already passionate about the work and striving to be masters themselves (otherwise they wouldn’t be there), so he doesn’t waste time using himself as an example to inspire them to work harder or embrace the vision. He knows the passion will come from the work itself when the followers know what to do.

I am currently learning the skills and techniques of blacksmithing. Now, you can’t honestly call yourself a blacksmith until you’ve learned how to forge your own tongs. My first attempts at forging tongs resulted in embarrassing monstrosities which I kept hidden from my family so they wouldn’t laugh at me. I watched how-to videos and looked at pictures of completed tongs, but I could not get them right.

IMG_2682It wasn’t until I bought a book in which a master laid out the forging process, step by step, systematically. “Measure this much here … isolate this much material there … hammer down to half the bar’s thickness here …” Only then was I able to forge the tongs, and they turned out quite well.

When a visionary leader is most needed and effective, the movement which he is leading is in such a state of rapid growth that no one cares if there is any systematic structure at all. The movement is riding on a wave of excitement, and for the time, that is sufficient. But that wave is temporary. The master needs to step in and create some proper systematic structure.

Now, when I say “systematic structure” I am not talking about creating a bureaucracy. I am a libertarian, and I hate all unnecessary rules. But, it is a false dichotomy to say that you can either have structure or freedom.

A master is a master precisely because he knows how to create freedom in the boundaries of structure.

*Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Origin of Speech, pg. 14-15

Read Part One here

Also check out Infinite Regression,  Visionary Leaders, and Cut the Crap

***

Advertisements

A Critique of Conferences

Recently I listened to a conference speech online. Well, I listened to half of it. It was too boring to finish. The topic was trustworthiness. One of the points made over and over was that if you say you’re going to do something then you should actually do it. Wow! What an epiphany!

I thought, “Is this speech being give to a bunch of twelve year olds?” But no, it was being given to adults. And I thought more, “Do the people in the audience feel as though their intelligence is being insulted? They should.” The whole speech was delivered as though it was either being given to stupid adults or to inexperienced kids.

I’m usually not a fan of conferences. I don’t want to be mistaken as an ungrateful complainer though. I appreciate the amount of work that goes into organizing a conference, and I would never suggest that the organizers’ hard efforts are a waste of time. I also know that a lot of people really love conferences and truly benefit from them, and, not everyone thinks like me. In fact, I am in the minority it would seem. I understand the importance of conferences. I understand people need to get together once and awhile, people who ordinarily don’t see each other, and remind themselves why they’re doing what they’re doing and why they need to help each other. I’ve met some great peoconference 001ple at conferences; people who I continued to work with for years afterward. I understand the leadership needs conferences to set the direction for the organization, and motivate the people, and cast vision and all that stuff. I believe all of that is important, and it is what gets me to actually go to the conference.

However, I’m still not a fan. There are few things more boring and pointless than sitting in a chair for three hours listening to a speech you’ve heard a hundred times already. I don’t need to listen to a lecture given by someone who has no experience in what I’m doing. I certainly don’t want to spend three or more days at a conference, away from my work and home, lying every time someone asks me about how great the conference is, pseudo-enthusiastically yelling “Hallelujah!” every time a speaker does so, and then walk away from the whole thing feeling emptier than when I showed up.

When I think of conferences I’m often reminded of a scene from the film Waterworld. The earth is covered with water, but there’s a little girl with a tattoo on her back with instructions to find dry land. Problem is, no one can read the instructions. The bad guys, called “Smokers”, capture the girl. The Smokers live on a big oil tanker and how they get it around is by rowing — hundreds of men sticking long oars out the sides and rowing, just like with the old wooden ships. The leader of the Smokers gives an inspiring speech, holding up the girl in front of everyone, proclaiming that they will find the land and create a great future, etc… After the speech the rowers are so hyped that they get to work immediately and exuberantly. Meanwhile, the leader, still not knowing how to read the instructions, in private with his closest advisors is asked, “So which way we rowin’?” and he replies, “I don’t have a g–d–n clue. Don’t worry, they’ll row for a month before they figure out I’m fakin’ it.”

I’m not suggesting that leaders in conferences are “fakin’ it”. But, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve come out of a conference hearing attendees proclaiming all the great things they’re going to do after being so encouraged by the conference speakers, and then never doing anything. I remember driving home from a three day Christian men’s conference, my intelligence freshly insulted, and my passenger, a railroad worker, declared, “I’m going to plant a church when I get home!” And I just smiled and thought, “No, you’re not.” Because anyone making a major decision like that, in an emotionally charged atmosphere such as a conference, is never thinking straight. And he never did plant that church.

The more honest attendees will be more level-headed, or even discouraged. I’ve known several people, who were already doing some kind of ministry, come out of a Christian conference feeling small and unimportant. I’ve heard laments like, “My ministry is hard work, and I wish I would have been able to meet people at the conference who were going through the same struggles I am, so that I could have talked with them and gotten to know them. But there was no time for that. Instead we just listened to grand speeches which included things like the leader yelling, ‘This is just the beginning!!’ over and over. What’s the point in that?”

My last article, Andragogy (Adult Learning), points out how adults, when attending a class or a conference, are not interested in generalities. They want specific teaching which directly relates to what they’re doing in life. They also don’t want to just sit and listen to a lecturer without having their own life experience and knowledge taken into account. What adult wants to sit and listen to a lecture that would better be delivered to a group of twelve year olds? Adults need to engage and speak and share. I know from personal experience that I would much rather sit in a small group setting, where everyone can participate, than sit in a large conference setting where you just, well, sit.

Andragogy (Adult Learning)

adult learning ps
Obviously, teaching children (pedagogy) is very different from teaching adults. Below are some notes on how to teach adults…

  1. Adults are self-directed in their learning. Rather than passively listening to a lecture, adults like to be engaged in the class forcing them to take responsibility for their own learning. Adults like to discuss what’s being learned and provide their own input.
  2. Adults have a lot of previous knowledge. They need to know how this new material will tie into what they already know.
  3. For adults, the content must be relevant. Too much useless information will just make the adult student bored and the material will be forgotten. Adults need a reason to learn this new material. “How is this class going to help me get ahead?” is what the adult student asks. The course material must be relevant to the student’s life and work.
  4. Adults are goal oriented and want to know early on in the course how we’re going to get “from here to there.” Even if the content relates to their life and work, pointless “bunny trails” will only distract and frustrate the adult student.
  5. Adults are problem oriented and are attending the class to find answers to specific problems. If the teacher doesn’t have those answers, the adult student loses interest in, and respect for, the class.
  6. The class needs to be fun, but not in a childish way. Activities also should be used to engage the student, but not insult their intelligence.
  7. The teacher should strive to use visual (charts/diagrams/models), auditory (lecture), and kinaesthetic (hands-on activities) stimuli when teaching adults.

Related links…

Malcolm Knowles

Andragogy Homepage