The Leadership Revival and The Great Revival

The Leadership Revival

JAN. 13, 2014

David Brooks

If you are in politics or public life, you probably had some moment of spine-tingling transcendence. Maybe you read the Declaration of Independence or watched the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mountaintop sermon, or read Nelson Mandela’s 1964 speech from the dock.Suddenly, your imagination was inflamed beyond its normal scope. You were enveloped by this epic sense that public life could be truly heroic. The people who issue these statements brought their lives to a glorious point, pledging their sacred honor, offering to sacrifice their lives for some public mission.

You got into public life inspired by something like that. But how do you execute that sort of vision? How do you translate the poetry of high aspiration into the prose of effective governance? This is the common problem today. Most people go into public life for the right reasons, but government doesn’t work. The quality of the people is high, but the quality of leadership is low.

I’d suggest three responses.

First, apprentice yourself to a master craftsman. Find yourself a modern version of Ted Kennedy cobbling together a Senate majority. Find yourself some silent backstage official, who knows how to slide ideas through the bureaucracy. Glue yourself to that person in order to learn the craft of governance.

Schools are good at transmitting what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott called technical knowledge. This is the sort of knowledge that can be expressed in rules and put down in books — like the recipes in a cookbook. But craftsmen possess and transmit practical knowledge. This sort of knowledge, Oakeshott says, exists only in use. It cannot be taught, only imparted by imitation and experience. It’s knowing when to depart from the cookbook; how much, when running a meeting, to let the conversation flow and how much to rein it in.

Practical knowledge is hard to see, but it is embedded in traditions of behavior. It is embedded in the lives of older legislators and public servants, and it is passed down by imitation to the younger ones. This craft of governing well has been forsaken and disrespected, but you will not be effective in public life unless you find a wise old person who will teach you the tricks of the trade, hour after hour, side by side.

Second, take a reality bath. Go off and become a stranger in a strange land. Go off to some alien part of this country or the world. Immerse yourself in the habits and daily patterns of that existence and stay there long enough to get acculturated. Stay there long enough so that you forget the herd mentality of our partisan culture.

When you return home, you will look at your own place with foreign eyes. You’ll see the contours of your own reality more clearly. When you return to native ground, you’re more likely to possess the sort of perceptiveness that Isaiah Berlin says is the basis of political judgment.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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