The art of leadership (according to Dilbert)

Today I had an epiphany.

I have a tear-off, one sheet a day, Dilbert calendar on my desk.  I enjoy the humour and the cynical accuracy, and I pretend that I have never met people like the cartoon nor found some of the situations to be uncannily accurate.

And reading today’s strip I wondered how much we fall for the confidence trick: leadership is the art of trading imaginary things in the future for real things today.

In this context perhaps there are two sorts of manager: those who will develop and encourage their people, and those who exploit the staff to better serve their own careers – the latter being the more likely to use Dilbert’s art.

Maybe, then, Lewis Carroll also understood the lure of the dangled carrot – with the Queen of Hearts proclaiming to Alice [in Wonderland]: “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today“.

Knowing that there is no jam tomorrow, why do we chase the dangling carrot? Because even though our rational brain says “no”, there’s still a worm of hope which says “maybe” – a gambler who wants te believe.

Now knowing the art, I know which leader I want to be (and it’s not as evidenced by Catbert!).

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Taking it for granted

When we are well we take our health for granted, but there is so much going on inside our bodies that it’s almost a surprise that we manage to lever ourselves upright each morning.  And sometimes we take advantage of the multitude of sickness which can envelop our beings with pestilence and plague, though more often with something rather more trivial.

British men (and, in these times of equality, perhaps women too) suffer from the all-defeating manflu, a malady known to reduce the strongest to his bed.  Perhaps keen to get in on the act are the French who have a recognised complaint of “heavy legs“, and indeed this was hitherto recognised by insurance companies and a myriad of potions made available for their remedy.  The Italians, equally keen on mystery illnesses, are afflicted by “a hit of air” – or sitting in a draught as we might call it – but it seems that the seriousness of the injury cannot be understated.

But hypochondria (any my sense of humour) aside, there are others who are suddenly dropped with terrifically bad news.  In the last week or so one of my friends has learned of cancer returning after being, only recently, given the all clear.  Today I heard that a close friend of a friend has breast cancer. And earlier in the year another friend received a terminal diagnosis with an immune system problem.

Often we don’t know what to say or do, partly through confused embarrassment and perhaps partly from misplaced caution. I’ve found that being honest, asking the tough questions that no-one else will ask, and just staying in touch has helped my friends – and when I was a bit poorly these were the actions I valued the most.

Have a laugh at the amusing ailments, but likewise spare a thought for those with (what might be) hidden, but life-changing problems.

The truth, the whole truth, and what the press reports

A friend of a friend has recently been quoted in the popular press.  Nothing too spectacular there, except that on this occasion she said something she probably shouldn’t have said.  It wasn’t necessarily untrue, but it had an explosive quality which made it particularly interesting to the newshounds – and was reported with a (possibly deliberately misleading) lack of context which made for an incendiary reception elsewhere.

And therein lies the nature of truth.  In court we are asked to deliver the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But when we are quoted for effect what has happened? If we told the truth (probably), the whole truth (unlikely), and nothing but the truth then what will be reported? The truth (maybe), the whole truth (almost certainly not, context rarely sells), and nothing but the truth (I think not).

History is littered with examples of people who have said something true but unpalatable, and all to often it is the messenger who is called to account – perhaps first observed by Sophocles as “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news”.

I don’t know whether the unintentional flames will be doused with apology, or fed with a scapegoat. But I do know that I really should learn from another’s misfortune and figure out the politician’s art of using lots of words to say nothing, especially in circumstances where I don’t want a Pyrrhic victory.