Leadership Lessons From The Great Books – Shorts #83

Leaders know that subjective beliefs that don’t match objective reality, have consequences.

Beliefs about objective reality, based on personal, subjective feelings, have consequences.

There is nothing more permanent than a belief. As the writer Nicholas Nassim Taleb wrote in the prologue to his 2007 bestselling book Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable:

“You need a story to displace a story. Metaphors and stories are far more potent (alas) than ideas; they are also easier to remember and more fun to read. […]

Ideas come and go, stories stay.”

Ah, Nassim Taleb, you sweet summer child.

In the world before 2020, one could engage in such an argument because the last vestigial smoke of classical discourse was wafting through the post-modern world.

But as the mighty bulldozer of deconstructionism—the act of tearing down institutions, systems, identities, and people without replacing those things that have been destroyed with anything else—has continued swinging and wrecking apace in the West in general and in the United States in particular over the last 15 years, a glaring and insurmountable problem has been revealed that would have been obvious if the people swinging the wrecking ball hadn’t been so consumed by hubris and arrogance.
If they had just listened to the lessons from stories.

But this is a problem to the deconstructing of Western man into “something else” because the glaring problem of a story—as persistent as stories are—is that they always bring a moral reckoning, a moral consequence, to the participants in the story.

We may laugh at the fables and myths of old.

We may dismiss the Biblical narrative or the classical narratives of the Greek and Roman world.

We may scoff at the Enlightenment and declare ourselves free to explore the absurd, but consequences are built into the fabric of reality itself.

But the people who created those fables, myths, and narratives; who teased from the fabric of reality a dawning understanding of the building blocks of Creation itself; who tried to build and maintain institutions and systems in order to complete the work of the transcendent on Earth…

…the people who did all that knew that beliefs, based on personal experience and subjective emotions, result in consequences. And that those consequences can lead to catastrophe and chaos far beyond the ability of people to address them.

But we aren’t reading those books, exploring those fables, telling those myths, or protecting those systems nearly as vigorously or as competently, as we should be.

The work of leadership is to tell stories that challenge beliefs based on personal experience and subjective emotions, expose them to the light of reason and competency, and dismiss them based on their own merits.

This leadership work requires clarity, candor, and above all in our day, the courage to avoid an appeal to clicks or an appeal to wielding power by riling up a mob.