Sunday, May 29, 2005

A Great Cautionary Tale

I don't know why I didn't think of this the first time I saw Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, but seeing it again reminded me of a cautionary lesson everyone needs to know. Not just IT, but America as a whole. There's this wonderful scene at the end where Aragorn as the king sees the Hobbits pay their respects to him by bowing. He tells them, "My friends, you bow to no one," and everyone there, the king, the soldiers, the heroes of the dwarves and the elves, all bow to the Hobbits.

If I'm remembering correctly, this was already explained in professional criticism of Tolkien's work as his warning that mighty heads of state should not forget the little people that make up their constituency. This is hardly a ground-breaking moral. Leaders have been compromising their oaths for personal gain since, well, probably since Tomak the caveman leader first clubbed someone else's wife over the head because he was tired of his own. As humans, we've proven time and again that we just can't control ourselves. We've really got to work on that.

But without the people doing a leader's bidding, we would be nowhere. I'd give our societies less than a week to dissolve into chaos if the little people in charge of getting water to our homes decided to quit. Or less, if they also cut off sewage operation.

The moral is simple for world leaders: You cannot be a leader without reliable followers. It's also obvious for businessmen. There's always much talk about how to be a good manager but if no one follows, even a good manager is useless. Any manager can look good if he has great resources. But the greatest managers do it facing compromised resources and unexpected challenges.

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