The Art of Leadership

What is Leadership

Today I won’t be talking about anything I’ve read or heard but rather something I’ve experienced. Leadership is an art, a science, a feeling as well as an expression. I’ve worked with a few people who have been my leaders all of whom had their downfalls in certain areas. For example, my current “leader” is someone who is always very pleasant, deliberate in all her actions but very self-serving and incompetent in her work and often dishonest in her intent. While it is fine to overlook self-servitude sometimes, it becomes more and more difficult to be able to overlook incompetence and even more so, dishonesty.

My friend who works at a local wedding DJ company seems to have an amazing entrepreneurial leader who is genuine and authentic. Two words that get passed around a lot these days but perhaps worth examining a bit more with respect to leadership.

Being Genuine

The dictionary says that being genuine is actually having the qualities you’re reputed for. This means those qualities could be good or bad. Genuine is being practically honest with others around yourself using your true personality. So when a leader is unhappy about a certain aspect of an employees behaviour, she would be genuine by expressing her emotions in their full extent. Hopefully in a calm and respectful manner.

Being Authentic

The first, and obsolete meaning of authentic is authoritative. The second is one who conforms to the original. What does that mean with respect to a leader? Perhaps one who has authority, or one who “sticks” to their word or what they’ve said they would do. To their original purpose or behaviour.

Genuine & Authentic = ?

Be bold and unafraid, set out what you’ve made up your mind to do. Be true to yourself and the others around you, transparent even if you think it will hurt their feelings because what will hurt more is being lied to. There is no turning back once is you’ve tainted yourself with lies and monstrosity because it leads to lack of respect.

Respect: is it gained or lost? It could be both. I feel like I’ve gained respect amongst some throughout a long period of time. But I’ve also lost all of it in one single day.

Political Animal

Recently I’ve been listening to lots of lectures from the ITunes University – what a gem! I am generally not very engaged at work and the tasks I have to do are quite monotone. Though I’ve learned that throughout my workday, I can learn a lot more by just listening.

The current course I am sort of auditing is call Introduction to Political Philosophy from Yale University. Isn’t this neat? A course that likely costs two to three thousand dollars to attend, available for free on the internet? Yay! Usually not one for the social sciences, listening to these open courses I have auspiciously convinced myself that they are actually great. If I had the money for a second bachelor’s degree (that will probably never happen) I would love to study these. Anyway, obviously Yale has some of the best instructors in the world and the lectures are really easy to follow, which is probably not the case at most universities.

Polis

I really wanted to write about my perception of Aristotle’s political theory as described by the instructor. He begins by saying that in Artistotle’s view, humans are political by nature hence “political animal.” It is important for all to be part of politics because it is the way of virtuous life, one lived in the city (polis) and to contribute to that city.

Aristotle's bust.

Regimes

Next, Aristotle discusses regimes. And by regimes he doesn’t mean in the current sense of the word, which represents totalitarian/communist/fascist regimes but rather just ways in which the governance of a city is organized. Those organizations may be democratic, oligarchic or “philosopher kings” such as the one’s Plato believes is the best type of regime. This discussion is rather confusing because Aristotle doesn’t outright state a “best regime.” He goes through the pros and cons of each, sometimes defending democracy and sometimes defending oligarchy. The answer is complicated but probably contextual, depending on the type people being ruled.

The Good Leader

The next books become increasingly confusing, I have to admit! But in short, Aristotle talks about who the ideal citizen is and how should he be educated. This ideal citizen should be of a sort of political ruling class where the individual is lofty in nature. He should have lots of practical, general knowledge – a type of common sense in what to do in situations. He should not act quickly unless there is distress and his only purpose is to guide the city from a time of turmoil to a time of peace. What should citizens do in times of peace? They should take leisure and participate in activities of learning to that they can become more wise. They would be learning the craft of statesmanship, and that will be their only purpose in the true city.

This is what I can recount from my course so far. How fascinating to think that works of people who lived over one thousand five hundred years ago are still available for us to read today and apply to our problems?

De Mulieribus Claris

De Mulieribus Claris” might almost sound like gossip magazine when translated in English, namely “On Famous Women,” however it is a biography written by a man in the medieval ages.

Who was Boccacio?

Why would a guy in the middle ages write about women when at that time they were regarded as little more than baby-making machines? Giovanni Boccaccio was a dreamer. As a young man he fell in love with the daughter of a king, he wrote poetry in her name and called her Fiammetta, or “little flame.” Perhaps he was an early day feminist?

Motivations

In his own words, Boccaccio mentioned that he wrote the book in the name famous ladies so that their names and deeds can be passed onto generations to come. The work itself is a collection of one hundred and six biographies of various historical or fictional women. Some examples include Isis, the ancient Egyptian goddess that was worshipped across the ancient world. My personal favourite is Penthesilea, who was a warrior goddess and the queen of the fictional Amazonian female-only tribe. After she accidentally killed her sister Hippolyta during hunting, Penthesilea decided that she was only worth dying. Thus, she recruited herself to fight for Troy in the Trojan War.

Boccaccio probably used historical figures firstly because he had access to their biographies through classical Greek works and the Bible. Additionally, if he had used women who had been his contemporaries this would have been deemed offensive and inappropriate for his time. Therefore, he wouldn’t have been able to dedicate the book to anyone. Finally, he dedicated the work to the Countess of Altavilla.

 

From Boccacio's On Famous Women.

Literary Effect

Why is this work important you might ask? It seems not a very interesting topic to collect stories of side characters throughout history. It was also probably not a very hard work to write since all Boccaccio had to do was a simple literature review to find the information that he needed. The importance of it is perhaps not in the book itself but in how it affected other historical events. Many say that the book is what inspired Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies. This is said to be one of the first true feminist novels.

Courtly Life and Princes – The Tale of Genji

Recently watched a documentary on Netflix called The Ascent of Woman – what a gem! It’s a documentary describing the lost women of the world throughout the ages in four episodes:

  1. Civilization: answers the question of how women were perceived in the dawn of civilization and why did women decline as civilizations expanded and became richer.
  2. Separation: explores how women accepted or rejected the “lower” status they were given in Confucian society of the east. Some women rejected it such as Lady Murasaki (remember her name ;))
  3. Power: during the middle ages, women were always excluded to texts and tasks, why and how?
  4. Revolution: in the 20th century, many people claimed to be part of women’s revolution such as the Bolsheviks but eventually those promises came to nothing. In the present day, women continue to expand their visibility and influence in the public sphere.

I decided to explore this path of women through a literary perspective. Who where the first female writers and what were their driving forces for writing, publishing and being known for their work?

The Tale of Genji

The story begins with The Tale of Genji written by the Lady Murasaki Shikibu in the 1000’s in Japan. Murasaki is not her real name, since no one knows her real name. In the Heian period of Japan, it was no acceptable to know noble’s real names or talk about them using their real names as it was considered impolite.

Murasaki wrote the book in her early 20’s and it is thought to have continued writing throughout her time as a lady-in-waiting during her time at court. It is a rather difficult work to read and I prefer the abridged version I found that has explanations on poetry and such other aspects of Japanese life that one wouldn’t know unless they have studied Japanese culture and/or literature.

Genji is an exceptionally beautiful court prince, his father is the Emperor of Japan. Everyone loves Genji for his almost unearthly beauty in everything he does. But Genji is a bit of a ladies man…. How surprising? He loves one girl, who he abducts from her home and takes to a cottage. She is very shy, small and helpless but he loves her that way. In a tragic moment, she does from fright due to spirits in the air or something of the sort she imagines. Genji is sad and becomes ill. He recuperates by going to temple where an extremely old monk lives. While out on his adventure – a prince shouldn’t be going around in the woods – he spies some beautiful ladies. He falls in love with one who is only 10…

The story continues in this strange manner where Genji spends his life idly “falling in love” with one lady or the other.

What it Tells Women

This theme portrays women as very unimportant, uninteresting and generally as things to be used and abused while beautiful beaus walk around and amuse themselves. Clearly, women of early Japan were not particularly powerful in the view of Murasaki herself. Why is the main character a man and not a woman? Perhaps no one would have even been interested in a book about a female character, since her days would be spent at home learning who to play a musical instrument until her husband arrives from business.

Overall, The Tale of Genji is a beautiful book with lots of poetry and perhaps would be even more beautiful if one could read Japanese. However, it is not particularly inspiring but rather mundane in the routine and boredom that court life must have created for itself.