Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Logic and Leadership

It's been a busy week--the Brass Quintet made another trip to another base to play for some Easter activities, and I'll see about writing more about that soon. Also, I got some new glasses, which is a subject for another blog post (you'll understand why when you read about it). There! I already have 2 more subjects to write about! But I'm not going to do those at this time. Instead, I'll do something that I haven't done in a while, which is to write something just to "get it out" of my head.

We are fortunate over here that we have relatively easy access to internet, and multiple television channels available in the chow halls and USO, etc. It is easy to keep up with the news, so I can check the baseball standings, follow my Nashville Predators as they (finally!) advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs, track the progress of the next Space Shuttle launch, and find out all there is to know about disasters such as the Japan earthquake or spring flooding in Tennessee. And of course, we now have the President's full birth certificate. (Disclaimer: technically, he is my boss.) (Also, I have known for a long time that the Honolulu papers printed his birth announcement in 1961, so this whole "birther" issue is nonsense. His opponents who have pursued this issue have only made themselves look foolish, being distracted from real, pressing issues by a red herring.)

But anyway, reading a lot about the political climate back home in the US has me thinking about something I saw on an episode of Star Trek. Many people have this misconception that the smartest people make the best leaders. Sure enough, all of our Presidents since 1989 have come from Ivy League backgrounds. (Take that as you will.) We like to place a premium on education. Have a graduate degree? A lot of jobs will pay you more for it. (I know from experience; I hold a Master's Degree. Just saying...) We typically like to be thought of as "smart," if only to not be thought of as dumb. And education is, by and large, a good thing. (More disclosure: I used to be a teacher, as were both of my parents [they're retired].) But does getting degrees and getting Jeopardy! answers make one a better leader? Does it matter if you're smarter than a fifth-grader?

Here's where the Trek comes in. In an early episode of the original series, "The Galileo Seven," seven members of the USS Enterprise crew are stranded on a barren planet when their shuttlecraft crashes. Mr. Spock is in charge, and because he's a Vulcan, dedicated to living his life by strictly logical principles, he decides to make the most logical decisions to keep his crew alive to be rescued. (I don't think that commentators who favorably compared President Obama to Spock were thinking of this episode, and you're about to find out why.) Spock is a smart guy--great memory, ship's science officer and first officer, by all accounts brilliant. He's also logical--he takes being compared to a computer as a compliment. He never lets emotion cloud his judgment. And in his first real test at command...he's a miserable failure. Not only does he not gain the trust of his crew, who find his cold manner off-putting, but his logical approach results in the deaths of two crew members. Naturally, he can only save the day when he makes an intuitive, near-emotional decision that defies what logic would dictate.

The sad truth is that leadership is not based strictly on knowledge, nor creativity, nor innovation. It is not enough to learn facts; one must be able to learn and adapt from experience. Logic is not enough to lead others, because people are not logical. While humans are capable of rational thought, rational thought is hardly the norm. Making a "smart" decision is not necessarily making the "best" decision. And having a degree doesn't mean you can't be wrong. To be a good leader, one must understand that there is often a wide gulf between intelligence and wisdom.

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