Wednesday, December 07, 2020

Tempo, Maestro

“What do you mean, Slow Leadership? Why slow?”

“Well, what it means is...”

“Slow, for heaven’s sake. You might as well say dull.”

“Not really, you see...”

“Who wants to be slow? Why not brisk?”

“Because it wouldn’t mean the same thing...”

“But really...slow. Don’t you mean something else?”

With Fast Leadership, it’s not the speed that matters in itself: some activities need to be done quickly. What’s wrong with it is the single-minded pursuit of simplistic, homogenized and, above all, profitable approaches, regardless of their wholesomeness or suitability for civilized life. Fast Leadership is about making a quick buck, and to hell with the consequences. Slow Leadership isn’t slow for the sake of slowness. It’s slow because some beneficial and healthful ways of dealing with other people can’t be hurried.

When the movement for Slow Food began, it was in revolt against everything the words “fast food” stood for: pre-packaged, microwaved, manufactured, sugar packed, fat drenched, flavor-adjusted, “gobble it quick and get out” kind of food. What those behind the Slow Food movement want to avoid isn't speed itself; it's the reduction of food to an over-manufactured, tasteless, unhealthy, industrially packaged commodity, created purely for profit. That kind of food isn't wholesome, or nutritious, or conducive to good conversation and fellowship around a table. It just needs to be simple to heat (no cooks required), utterly consistent (the same in ten thousand outlets worldwide), and cheap (so avoid fresh ingredients or those that can’t be supplied in 50 gallon drums). And if some chemical manufacturer offers you a substitute that costs even less, take it, regardless of health hazards, carcinogenic qualities, or the knowledge you're adding to the millions of obese children risking early diabetes.

If you want to get to know your people properly; if you want fully to understand their capabilities and needs; if you think it’s important to pay close attention to what’s around you and pick up subtle indicators of market changes; above all, if you want to enjoy what you do and feel the world is, in some small way, a better place because of your efforts, you need to take your time.

Sure, you can breeze through being a leader, substituting formulaic actions for true expertise and understanding, but why would you want to do that? If you have no time to pay attention, beyond setting financial targets and hounding people to match or exceed them, can you call yourself a leader at all?

People follow a leader from respect, admiration, even love. All take time and care to develop. Of course, you can more easily make employees toil to meet crazy financial targets through fear and harassment, but doesn't that put you on much the same level as Saddam Hussein? Slave labor will always produce goods more quickly and cheaply than free employees, so long as you aren’t concerned about the welfare—or even the survival—of the slaves. Hitler’s Germany built massive constructions in record time by using slave labor, but that doesn’t make it right or desirable.

And there’s the crux: if output is all that matters, especially if it needs to be gained as cheaply as possible, there’s no mileage in treating people well. It costs money and interferes with getting the most out of them in the shortest time. We rightly abhor tyrants and criminals who exploit and enslave other people, purely for their own ends; but are their methods so different from corporations that cut costs by forcing people to work longer and longer hours for the same pay? Or those who outsource manufacturing to Far Eastern sweatshops they take great trouble never to admit to knowing about? Or those that renege on pension entitlements to boost short-term profits?

To be civilized means you value doing things in the right way, not simply the least costly way. It means setting ethical standards that transcend corporate profit. It means being public-spirited: a concept that's almost extinct in the corporate world. It means believing that society’s welfare is more valuable than individual gain. When Mrs. Thatcher, Britain’s formidable (and often deeply disliked) Prime Minister declared: “There’s no such thing as Society,” she was backing the idea that individualism counts for more than the general good.

It was, of course, nonsense, and she knew it, but it made a memorable sound-bite, which is important to a politician. If individualism is all there is, the strong have no reason to hold back from oppressing the weak, and we’d better all get used to taking orders from the ones with the largest guns and smallest scruples.

Slow Leadership is civilized leadership: leadership based on acting in ways that increase the benefit for all, not simply the profit for a very few; leadership you can feel proud of before the severest moral critic. That’s why it takes time. That’s why it’s slow. And since it also stands for leadership it’s a pleasure to be part of, why would you want to hurry it anyway?

A good musician plays fast music fast and slow tunes, slow. A bad one plays it all at the same speed—the only speed he or she can handle.

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Tim Lucas said...

I love your idea of 'Slow leadership' and the concept behind Slow Food, though I think you could improve this post by removing the paragraph mentioning Hussein and Hitler, though as appealing it may have been to write.

Give your readers the credit that they understand and will act on your ideas w/o you having to push their fear buttons.

Many of your paragraphs seem to be repeating the same message and I feel it tends to take away from, rather than add to, the message.

Keep up the promotion of slow leadership -- it's one that everybody definitely needs to hear!

5:46 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment and feedback, which I have taken on board for the future. I'm glad you find the idea of Slow Leadership powerful and exciting.

6:54 PM  
Rabbit said...

I disagree with Tim - the analogy to Hitler rang loud and clear with me: call out those bastard corporate execs who treat people like they're a "dime a dozen." (I've been called this by a former employer - I was promptly fired for my reaction.)

9:36 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Hi Rabbit

Thanks for your feedback. I hope you continue to find this site and the ideas in it useful. Keep up the pressure for a more civilized working environment!

7:44 AM  
Anonymous said...

I usually don't comment on blogs, but I couldn't help myself this time. I was gaining real insight from your article until you got to the point about the good of society outweighing the good of the individual. It seems to me that one of the reasons you offer for Slow Leadership is that it promotes the "greater good."

In the 1930's, a government official in a European democracy noticed that the handicapped used more than their share of the nation's medical resources. He reasoned that it was in the interest of the greater good to exterminate those who used a disproportionate share of the country's medical resources. His logic was inescapable, and perfectly consistent with the idea that the overall good of society outweighs the individual good. Thus was born the Nazi euthanasia program.

If you're as appalled as I am by the logic that government official used, then it's probably because you believe there's something greater than the "greater good." That would be the good of the individual. If the good of the individual doesn't outwieght the good of the many, then why be outraged if a minority are enslaved to ensure happiness for a majority?

10:06 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Well, Anonymous, I'm certainly with you on finding such behavior abhorrent. But I don't think that was what I was suggesting.

My point is that when you set pure individualism above anything else, what you'll get is tyranny by the powerful. And I'm not suggesting society, or the general welfare, however it's defined, is the highest good either.

I'm arguing for civilized behavior by all, which would certainly rule out Nazi extermination programs, as well as exploitation of the many by the few -- and the few by the many.

12:29 PM  

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