Leading from behind


Glad to see someone who understands “Leading from behind” well.
Some more practical examples in the physical sphere: pallet loaders, container ships (or almost any ships), sledge riders driven by huskies.

You will see the many analogies. That you can lead by only a nudge to the eager team with a lot of self-initiative.”

* Saurabh Bakshi: thanks indeed you examples are helping me in making my case stronger !*

Much like you, when I heard the “lead from behind” the first time, a year ago, I immediately understood it. You saw how good parents lead their children, from a sofa. Just a good question directing their thinking, motivation and the work is done. In metal machining, the worker/student does the job, but the teacher just stands behind him, sometimes tells something to do or not to do, sometimes points a finger or explains how it works. Driving licenses are in many countries issued after a lot of practical training in real traffic by the student who drives the car. The instructor has a copy of his pedals, but no wheel, even. Yet, he directs it and points where to go.

Both leading from behind and leading from the front have their use. You lead from behind eager participants who either have much more time or abilities than you. You lead from the front where micromanagement and your genius is required. (like Apple or WW2 warfare).

Of the latter, general Patten provides a nice example. Someone with no hesitation or shame. When surrounded on four sides, he proclaimed: ‘now we have them where we want them, now they can’t get away from us’, and something about ‘now we don’t have to look for them, we have them here’. Basically, leading from the front is where you show that you are a badass and that your ‘troops’ are possibly even more badass than you. Today, you do that when your company is legally attacked, you get out in the front and let tomatoes be hurled at yourself. You do it while standing still, straight, quiet, dignified. The same as with Patten, you don’t want to fight with someone who doesn’t even flinch when you attack him. That is the way you should always defend your company and employees.

It is a lost art. I’m not saying there are no great leaders anymore, but you only see bad examples everywhere. Winterkorn of VW recently. Learn how not to do it from him. First he plays dead bug, then he “deeply apologizes”. Useless man for the company. The truth is that what the company did was done for the good of the customer (low fuel consumption, etc.) and there could be many engineering decisions that he could publicly defend the company with, to gain some sympathy from THE CUSTOMERS and gaining some trust back from the INVESTORS. Of course, his role would be then to take the flak for his public comments (instead of the company), then he would be ceremoniously humiliated by the company, thrown out, his privileges taken, then face arrest, court, possibly prison, all to boost the image of his company.

He did none of that, he wasn’t a leader, but a coward, not willing to be a leader. You don’t need to be a fanatic to endure this, but you need to be decisive.

P.S. Warren Buffett leads from behind by associating with people and companies who already share his mindset for values and work ethics. He doesn’t need to do any managing after he buys such company.

A leader.

“Ambitious, Decisive, Intelligent, Competent, Determined and Dependable.”

Ambitious: you can’t lead anyone by staying where you are, ambition = goals.
Decisive: don’t waste time, decide, do.
Intelligent: not a fool, listens, learns, builds others.
Competent: not childish, not shirking responsibilities.
Determined: not leaving the pursue of a goal!
Dependable: others can rely on him to deliver.

Engineering mind: Large machine repair

During the course of a repair of a huge piece of equipment, a quirky electrical problem appeared (not a mechanical/hydraulic one, what was the original ailment). By a process of sequential analysis, where I tried to isolate the cause (disconnect input power, then try to separately isolate offending relays (covering relevant contacts with paper)), it was found that none of this was helping.

But during the course of this, one thing became clear: This is a personal matter, the machine challenged me and I no longer do it for money, I do it to defend my professional honor. The rush of blood revived my body, it no longer mattered how long it will take. It was a nice feeling.

I’m writing too much, and of little substance. This one is a comment on opinion of some educators that science and beletry don’t mix.


“The logic went that people who loved computation and experiments couldn’t also love books and self expression.” …whose logic? That person certainly has a very limited worldview. Anyone who has read Sherlock Holmes certainly doesn’t see any conflict between sciences and empirical experiment and language and literacy skills, in fact, both go hand in hand! But reading Sherlock Holmes, you would already know that.

Any school system that goes in its thinking of people as being “of only two kinds, which never ever intermix with each other” is just as biased as “the righteous” white religious people who travelled far and wide to enslave and abduct thousands of people from another continent to bring them to forced work.

The mentality is the same. “I am the source of truth and nothing else is even possible”. At this moment, I am trying to recall ANY people in the history who “loved computation and experiments” but did not love books and self expression. Charles Babbage? Nope, his literary skills are famous and pretty cheeky. Ada Lovelace? Don’t get me started, her father was George Byron. She had an amazing analytical mind, but was far from “can’t love books”. Jessica Fletcher? Come on, she is the perfect mix of books, self expression and experiment and language skills. (Yes, the character is more or less the same as the underlying actress.) Who else? Benjamin Franklin? A man who kept on inventing, experimenting, while loving art, statesmanship, politics, all key markers of self-expression, of which the quote said ‘is immiscible with love of maths’.

No, I do not see any significant historical examples that any great people naturally converge to love of one topic, while hating the other. We shouldn’t deprive children of seeing both, both in unison, if possible, much like the author has tried to.

But simple, subtle means are enough: reading three ordinary size beletry books will make you literate. Playing some games and doing simple chemistry experiments will make you scientifically literate. …did I just accidentally conclude that relax and entertainment will make you literate and educated?

Books can be boring; especially if those are pushed onto you, a student feels natural force that repels anything that teacher tells them is “good for them”. The same can be said about sciences for other students. But why? Because we only enjoy things we like and know. Once you start reading books and enjoying what happens in them, you love it. The same about math, Parker Lewis once taught an illiterate bully math by using what the bully knew and loved, he could instantly recall any events he’s been involved with. Math is boring, even to people who love profit. Unless you show them how it can be used to make profit. They instantly start researching on their own.

Motivation, likes, dislikes, that is what it is all about.

What woulkd you say about me, for example, am I an introvert or an extrovert? Forming an opinion once and never reevaluating it is a bad thing to do, especially for a teacher. Overcomplicating things is also a bad thing. Remember Blaise Pascal: “If you want to build ships, do not start collecting planks and hiring workers. You have to teach people to love the endless seas.” It all comes together by itself. The same it is with students. Show them or tell them, or give them a hint with a question that something is possible. Once you present a concept into their fantasy, it makes a lasting imprint that develops on its own.

And still, humanity never learns. by a strange coincidence, the oppressive communist regimes banished free thought and recommended only “drill learning”, where you had to mindlessly learn a set of words, facts, no thinking or emotion, that would be dangerous. I point to that, while it was a long time ago, the learning process in the UK and in the USA reminds me so much of that era, gone away so long ago. Make your own opinion on why is that.

A comment on pay gap and proposals/predictions for closing it.


But can’t the same be said about young people? Appreciate young people (age 15-30) more and the world would add trillions in GDP. I used to be young. I know. Sometimes, working with numbers needs care. Could the world really add trillions in GDP, if there was no music, film and software piracy? Absolutely not, because those who pirate it would never have that kind of money anyway. The opposite would be true: less popularity and knowledge of the music, film and software would generate less sales in the near and long term.

Of course, unequality of women in the workforce isn’t the same kind of “numbers problem”. But it shows how easy it can be to jump into conclusions. Where would the money for the additional pay come from? How would the structure of consumer spending change? It is unrealistic to expect that the additional wages would cause equal rise of income to all areas of industry, most likely, the added production costs would be IN DIFFERENT industries than those who wuold profit from the added consumer spending!

Which means the whole world economy would change and while some industries would boom, others would perish.

You just can not make a large systemic change, or rather, change the system in its underlying basics, and not expect widespread ripples that would shake the economies, both in the good and bad sense of the word.

So, how fast can be equality achieved? First: total equality shall never be achieved, we have to realistically admit that. There is a peak line of division, due to physical, physiological, mental, hormonal, emotional differences between men and women. You can’t quite compare potatoes and pears. You can make hard liquor from both, but there are still differences. So, the maximum achieveable equality won’t be 50/50, let’s say it will be 55/45.

What way will we be heading towards that equality line? Will it be a linear approach or a more natural slow convergence toward the line? Will the maximum achieveable equality line change over time due to some demographic, social or physical changes in humans? That is how you look at the problem from a systems analysis viewpoint. From this analysis, you put in the data into economy and see what shifts would it cause. Back from that you compare the results to see if these are viable.

Results on how bull/bear economy affects gender inequality need to be entered into an economy simulator before we even start. We need to know how fast can each region develop towards the maximum line (at least from past performance and speed of adoption of new concepts), the distribution of inequality across the whole range of income groups and how it developed over the last 100 years (remember that some countries are now at a point where others were 50 years ago).

There needs to be a deep understanding of macroeconomy, and that many times includes contradicting theories and the ways economic systems develop and interact. Because closing pay gaps will inevitably cause massive shifts in the way economic activity is fuelled. Even if you only reached for the current best equality of 59/41, you would greatly equalize incomes around the world as a side effect (the typical personal income between say, US citizen and a Chinese citizen is much more equal today than it was 50 years ago, as is the healthcare, expected fertility, life expectance, education, etc, and the same is true for 100 other countries as well).

You may have noticed some scaremongering scenarios of “one world government”, etc. But in its core, the world is heading towards equalisation on all fronts. Of course, the same principle of maximum achieveable equality equilibrium applies. But it won’t be a 100:1, or even 10:1 anymore, and it is, among other things, caused by the laws on exponential growth, there is a point in time where exponential growth can no longer attained and linear growth is used instead (bacteria are one such example), but in humans and markets, a smaller exponent is likely to be the first manifestation; and here, I am sure, Stephanie Flanders agrees with me.

So, while the added GDP on decreased inequality are tempting, it is necessary to see the whole picture and what the best achieved result can be, suited to some prototypical circumstances, how certain types of countries and economies can behave.