Part II Dead and alive: The greatest mentors I’ve never met

Last week I put together some books that have had a ‘mentoring’ effect on me.

Here’s a very brief list of shorter pieces, and a podcast, that also contain elements of wisdom from which I’ve benefited.

David Kemp’s A Leader and a Philosophy

I came across this piece, published back in 1973, while doing some research for a writing project.

At a time when many outside of formal party politics puzzle over the importance of ‘rallying the base’, and trimming this against electoral appeal, Kemp builds a coherent picture for a modern political leader, the need for a philosophy, and how this threads and balances with pragmatism, and appeal and persuasion.

Ultimately, Kemp argues, a philosophy has three things:

  • It provides an overall sense of direction. It spells out the really important goals to be achieved over the longer term.
  • It usually indicates the variety of methods which are compatible with the long-term goals, as well as those methods whose use would imperil the realisation of these broader objectives.
  • It ought to provide an incentive to action, bringing sharply into focus the divergence between the objectives of the philosophy and the actual existing situation.

There’s no doubt that we can apply philosophy in any context, especially other than politics.

JM Barrie’s speech on Courage (1922)

Barrie – a Scottish novelist and playwright – delivered this speech at St Andrew’s University in 1922.

It appeals to me because he mentions the ‘two parts’ of us that many possess – our untamed side, for example, versus our more disciplined and measured parts

Barrie notes that ‘M’Connachie’ is the name he gives to:

The unruly half of myself: the writing half. We are complement and supplement. I am the half that is dour and practical and canny, he is the fanciful half; my desire is to be the family solicitor, standing firm on my hearthrug among the harsh realities of the office furniture; while he prefers to fly around on one wing.

Barrie also warns:

I wanted to be an explorer, but he willed otherwise. You will all have your M’Connachies luring you off the high road. Unless you are constantly on the watch, you will find that he has slowly pushed you out of yourself and taken your place. He has rather done for me. I think in his youth he must somehow have guessed the future and been fleggit by it, flichtered from the nest like a bird, and so our eggs were left, cold. He has clung to me, less from mischief than for companionship.

Barrie’s speech highlights the importance of vigilance, discipline and good decisions. I can’t think how many times so many people have prospered, or avoided great pitfalls, because they’ve been mindful of Barrie’s message (something that appears in another good book – Wes Moore’s The Other Wes Moore).

Solitude and Leadership by William Deresiewicz

This speech was given by the American writer William Deresiewicz to West Point Military Academy in 2009.

It is a great reminder on leadership, moral courage, thinking things through for one’s self. “Great heart surgeons or great novelists or great shortstops may be terrific at what they do,” he notes, “but that doesn’t mean they’re leaders.”

One great takeaway:

The time to start preparing yourself for them [great moral dilemmas] is now. And the way to do it is by thinking through these issues for yourself—morality, mortality, honor—so you will have the strength to deal with them when they arise. Waiting until you have to confront them in practice would be like waiting for your first firefight to learn how to shoot your weapon. Once the situation is upon you, it’s too late. You have to be prepared in advance. You need to know, already, who you are and what you believe: not what the Army believes, not what your peers believe (that may be exactly the problem), but what you believe.

And another, on the distinction of true leaders versus those who simply keep the trains running on time:

Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfil goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of expertise. What we don’t have are leaders.

David Brooks podcast on The Second Mountain

Recorded as part of the Art of Manliness podcast, Brooks’ book – The Second Mountain – narrowly escaped last week’s list. In this podcast he shares some of his great lessons, including the importance of community, vocation versus occupation, and how we search for some of these things once we move from ‘career virtues’ to ‘eulogy virtues’ in the second half of our lives. Brooks doesn’t provide all the answers, but he at least gives us a blueprint on how to map out some of these things.

Churchill’s leadership lessons

Churchill is a lionised hero – a view I share. Here is a short piece on some of the lessons I’ve distilled from his own words, as well as the words of his many many biographers.

Wisdom from John Bogle

The late John Bogle was a hugely successful American businessman. I adapted the title of his book (Winners Never Cheat), and indeed some of the lessons, when I wrote my own. Here are a list of Bogle’s key lessons – titled ‘a reminder of values and capitalism‘ – I learnt from studying his speeches and remarks over the years.

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