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.

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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 and Visionary Leaders

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Infinite Regression

regressionSuppose you want to travel from point A to point B. Well, between point A and point B there is a halfway point, and you’re going to have to get there first. Then, from that halfway point to point B is another halfway point, and you’re going to have to get there first too. And then, there is yet another halfway point between the last halfway point and point B, and you’re going to have to go there first again. And so on, and so on….. You will never get to Point B because you always have to go halfway first. It’s an infinite regression.

In my last article, I criticized the concept of the Visionary Leader a bit. Visionary leaders are definitely needed to get things started. Somebody has to have the passion and the drive to move and motivate others. But, once things are underway, a Man of Action needs to come in and take over.

Another problem I have with visionary leaders is they often inspire other visionary leaders, but not men of action. And visionary leaders inspiring visionary leaders inspiring visionary leaders is an infinite regression where nothing substantial ever gets built.

How many movements die when the visionary leader dies because no man of action is there to build the structure needed for lasting existence?

Visionary Leaders Vs. Masters Part One

A visionary leader focuses much on vision, mission, and passion. He wants to be an inspiration to his potential followers. He is big on teams and for the members of those teams to buy in heavily to his vision. For this reason he creates as many opportunities as he can to impart his vision to the team members. Team members are encouraged to lead themselves, and change themselves as needed to be effective team members. Those team members who do not sufficiently buy in to the vision become pariahs.

Aside from evoking passion in potential followers, the visionary leader does not have much to offer. He does not necessarily know the solutions to the problems his followers will face. Nor does he necessarily have access to the resources his followers will need. Rather, he encourages his followers to deal with those issues themselves.

As so much depends on the visionary leader’s public image for his success, those followers who are best at making him look good will be the followers most celebrated and promoted.

bsmithA master, however, does not concern himself too much with vision, or at least not in the same way as the visionary leader. He is on a mission, and he is passionate, but in order for him to lead, he doesn’t require his followers to focus so much on who he is or why he’s there. A master knows what needs to be done, he knows how to get it done, and he has access to all the resources needed to get it done. He knows all the problems his followers will face before they themselves ever encounter those problems, and he is there to provide teaching and guidance.

A master requires hard work and excellence from his followers. Those who do that will be promoted and celebrated. Those who do not become the pariahs. The motivation for the followers is not passion inspired by the leader, but rather passion inspired by the work itself, excellence, and an ever increasing growth in knowledge.

I suppose a good leader will have both a visionary side to him and a master side. But, from my experience, most leaders lean heavily towards one, depending on what field they’re working in. Visionary leaders tend to be found in the business world, or in Christian growth movements, whereas masters are found mainly in the trades. But there is no reason the master has to stay there.

Personally, I prefer to follow a master, and am trying to become one myself.

Read Part Two here

Related reading…

Platitudes Are Contagious: ‘Company Culture,’ Management Maxims, And Other Bullshit

Shop Class as Soulcraft

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Visionary Leaders

Visionary leaders are the people who see what needs to be done, and have the drive to get it done. If it weren’t for the visionary leader, little would ever get done.

But, you have to be careful, if you are a visionary leader, or if one has taken an interest in you. The visionary leader tends to be superficial about anything but his vision and thus ends up using people and dumping people when he perceives their usefulness has run out. As quickly as someone is willing to trust you (with no previous experience to do so), they will just as quickly distrust you (again for no reason). Notice with the visionary leader that all his relationships are political.

Don’t use and don’t be used. Plan your life and relationships for the long haul.

Informalities and Frivolties

My dad used Old Spice. He also grew up in WW2 Germany and emigrated to Canada alone when he was sixteen. He started up his own business after dropping out of high school, got married, and had kids.

He grew up in a time when the formal and the informal had their proper places. The informal stems from the formal, and the formal is foundational. We don’t always want to live in formal mode — life would be too serious then. We want to be able to lighten things up a bit in our day to day lives. I don’t want to call my dad “father” all the time; I want to call him dad or papa most of the time. However, my ability to call my dad “dad” rests on the fact that first I call him “father”.

These days in the west, informality, and thus frivolity, have taken over. The foundation of the formal is crumbling and no one takes life seriously enough. (No one, that is, except the revolutionaries we see yelling and screaming at the universities. But they too have no formal foundation to build upon.) Even a product like Old Spice has to embrace the shallow video game culture in order to sell….

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Old Spice deodorant

I suppose the West will have to create a new formal foundation before it can mature to its next stage of development.

Further reading: Fatherlessness and the Rise of the Shaving Industry