Sunday, August 22, 2004

How do your peers perceive you?

Leadership through a follower's eyes: Inessa Armand on Vladmimir Ilyich Lenin

Truly effective leaders have a tendency to be excessively driven individuals infused with an obsessive passion for their organisations and their ideals. For the great ones over time, it's generally been via the bird's-eye impressions of eyewitnesses that we -- centuries or decades onward -- discover the challenges these greats faced in their day -- perhaps moral, military, or simply organisational.

I recently had occasion to complete Michael Pearson's excellent Lenin's Mistress: The Life of Inessa Armand. Armand goes down in history as the reputed -- despite the most strident and later Soviet efforts to debunk it -- Lenin's 'real wife' (Nadya Krupskaya was, of course, officially) - tasked by none other than Vladimir Ilyich himself with a series of daring clandestine operations his Bolsheviks conducted before and following Russia's 1917 November Revolution. Armand was entrusted with top-secret information for which lesser folk in the months and years to follow Lenin's passing were assassinated, murdered, show-trialled, and humiliated.

I rather enjoy books like Lenin's Mistress because I've often felt very strongly about this apt phrase:"Every general needs a good lieutenant." Like author Thomas Stanley of The Millionaire Mind like to say, the 'very successful' set are statistically proven to be married, with several children, and what he terms 'rooted' - in the economic sense. For Lenin, Armand was his unswerving backup - someone to rely on when push came during the wild and woolly rise of Bolshevik power in the former tsarist dictatorship.

Biographies about leaders over time have tended to be penned by jingoistic sycophantic ghost writers who've taken their cues from a leader's close handlers, penning effusive aggrandising bluster.

To take one step back from a leader's tight inner circle sometimes affords later generations a perspective the man/woman himself would doubtless be reticent to expose. Armand's erstwhile confiscated and Soviet-censored diaries were obtained by author Pearson to form the basis of his book. Armand's detailed accounts of Lenin's directives and exploits provide a refreshing -- read: novelty -- take on the man long-(and rightfully?) vilified by the West. They peer into the life and machinations of a man whose very lifestory seems repetitively accounted for in major Lenin scholarship.

Leaders have much to teach, yet sometimes their approaches can be so woefully labyrinthine and convoluted (though magnificently or horrifyingly effective) it takes a person one-twice-or thrice removed to properly account for the fascination -- or worse -- the cult surrounding the motivational leader.

Enter Armand's scribblings on her boss, lover, and co-conspirator V.I. Lenin.

There are scads of similar titles on the market. Sadly, the responsibility is left for we future generations to penetrate to the truthful essence about these past great and infamous ones. We seldom know in our lifetimes because it takes several years' reflection just to let it all sink in.

Lenin's Mistress was a super read. If anything, because it teaches that despite the wonderful innovations at our pushbutton disposal today - leadership strategies have recycled over time. Continuously improving, morphing, and adapting to the times. And basic human nature remains static.

Since every leader has the potential to be caught up in the euphoria of accomplishment, this delusional state sometimes prevents them from thinking clearly.They overemphasise their contributions, however effective. Others surrounding us have the unique angle of watching them in action, creating the perfect counter.

One thing though...Pearson remains mum on his Communist sympathies. He leans towards neo Lenin-worship, though never made clearly apparent. If so, he's done a remarkable job of masking it. You be the judge...


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