The Elements of Leadership

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I lectured half a dozen high school students on the elements of
leadership. These were pre-screened students at a small but rapidly
growing Christian school. They had already demonstrated leadership
abilities. They were coming out for half a work day to shelve a
few of my books.

could I tell them of value in 45 minutes? Not much.

are some of the basics. Maybe these will be interesting to you.


are fewer leaders than followers. Over and over, we see Pareto’s
20-80 rule in action. About 20% of a particular group will account
for 80% of the productivity, or trouble, or whatever it is you’re
considering. Leadership involves gaining access to the 20%, and
then, over time, the top 4% (20% of 20%).

fact is, most people don’t want to lead in most areas of life. But
80% of them do want to lead in some area. They want to be respected
for something. Leadership is a sign of respect. People feel ill-equipped
in most areas, but in some area that they know something about,
people are willing to lead the 80% who don’t know what’s happening
in this area.

think almost anyone can be turned into a leader, if he or she wants
to become one. This person won’t be a leader in every area, but
in one area, yes. But the person must pay the price.

greatest book I have ever read on leadership is Douglas
Hyde’s Dedication
and Leadership
. It was published in 1956 — a long time
ago. It’s still in print. Hyde had been a leader in the Communist
Party in England during the 1930’s and 1940’s. He rose in the CP
to become editor of the CP’s daily newspaper. He converted to Catholicism
in the late 1940’s, as he records in his autobiography, My Story.
In seminars, he began teaching Catholic priests about the techniques
used by the Communists in gaining influence. Dedication and Leadership
is a short version of his seminars on leadership techniques.

the book, there is a remarkable chapter, "The Story of Jim."
Hyde had given a speech in which he said that he could make anyone
into a leader. After the lecture, an overweight, stuttering man
came up and asked him to make him a leader. His name was Jim. Hyde
knew he had his work cut out for him. He went to work.

had Jim dedicate himself for a year to mastering his trade. He was
a factory worker. He told Jim to show up at every trade union meeting,
set up chairs, do the grunt work, and keep his mouth shut. In other
words, he told Jim to make himself useful in simple ways. But, most
important, would be Jim’s commitment to doing the best job he could
on the production line. He had to show his fellow workers that he
was competent. Actions speak louder than words.

did as he was told. Within two years, he had become a leader in
the union. He had worked on controlling his stuttering. His confidence
level was much higher. He was, of course, even more dedicated to
the Communist Party, because Hyde had delivered on his promise.

does this strategy work? Because of two things: (1)men’s
respect for work well done, which in turn reflects on the worker;
(2) the service principle.

Communists stole the second point from Jesus. The disciples had
been squabbling over which of them would exercise leadership.

But Jesus
called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which
are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over
them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so
shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you,
shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest,
shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be
ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom
for many (Mark 10:42-45).

respect to the first principle, Leonard E. Read of the Foundation
for Economic Education used to say, "When I’m on the golf course,
people don’t come up to me for advice. They prefer to ask Arnold
Palmer." Yet Read had hit half a dozen holes-in-one in his
career. He kept at it, always trying to improve his game. Read’s
point was simple: self-improvement is the key to leadership. Read
had never gone to college, yet, through FEE, which he began in 1946,
he almost single-handedly created the libertarian movement. He even
wrote its original how-to manual, Elements of Libertarian Leadership,
which is in fact a self-improvement manual.

two books are the ones I would use in any class or seminar on leadership.
The third would be Frank Meyer’s The Moulding of Communists.


can’t be a leader in every area. You must acknowledge the reality
of the division of labor. You must specialize.

out what you really love to do, and concentrate your efforts on
this. Pick that area of your life in which you want to excel for
a lifetime. Then devote time, effort, and money to mastering it.
The key is mastery. You must become so proficient that people who
are interested in this area come to you without your having to ask
or recruit anyone — like Arnold Palmer on the golf course.

you will devote 5,000 hours to almost anything, you will become
an expert if you have any innate ability at all. You will be so
good at it that you can distinguish poor performance from good performance,
and understand how to avoid the poor and deliver the good. If we
are talking about a 40-hour week, 5,000 hours is two and a half
years. If you devote an hour a day, it will take you 15 years. If
you start at age 20, by 35 you will be an expert. For something
that takes an hour a day, that’s not too long to wait.

why starting young is so important. It leaves you time to exercise

hurts people is that they don’t stick with it.

flit from interest to interest. They lose interest.

get bored. They cease to work on self-improvement. It just isn’t
worth it any more. This leads to the next principle.


La Lanne, the 80-something expert in exercise, says that you should
devote 90 minutes a day to exercise. But he also says that you should
vary your routine. Boredom is what keeps people from continuing.
The key to sticking the program is to avoid getting bored.

you are constantly working on self-improvement, you should not get
bored if the field you have chosen is worth pursuing. There is always
more to learn. At some point, you will become a teacher. That will
pressure you to get even better.

of the techniques used by the Communists was to give a new member
a stack of Daily Worker newspapers and send him out to sell
them. This sold newspapers and gained income, but it also got the
new member into trouble. He would be challenged verbally by anti-Communists.
He would not know the answers. This would pressure him to take evening
seminars on Communist theory.

Black Muslims (Nation of Islam) adopted this technique in the mid-1960’s.
They would station their people at supermarkets frequented by whites
and blacks, and have them sell Muhammed Speaks. (The technique
ceased to work in the 1970’s.)

why it’s important to select something really worth doing early
in your career. I decided at age 18 what my area would be: biblical
economics. No one taught it. There was no textbook. There was basically
nothing. There was no money in it, either. So, I knew I would have
to do some hard plowing, but I also knew that I could become the
world’s expert if I stuck with it long enough, because there was
no one else doing it. As I have said for years, I now have a monopoly.
Unfortunately, demand is still low.

have never gotten bored with the project. I plan to devote at least
another decade in doing the research, and then write an Adam Smith-sized
book on it. The Web has arrived, and also publishing-on-demand technology,
so it’s a lot easier to write a book and get it published than when
I started the project in 1960.

can keep plugging away if you don’t get bored. That’s why picking
the right topic or area of service is so important. First, it has
to be worth doing. Second, it has to offer a lifetime challenge.
If it lacks either element, you probably won’t stick with it.


leadership brings applause, fame, and a chance of making a lot of
money, the competition gets stiff. There are a lot of people trying
to climb their way to the top. Not many will make it. Of those who
do, not many will keep the top position. In Hollywood, there are
only a few John Waynes, Henry Fondas, or Jimmy Stewarts who hold
the top for decades. A Clint Eastwood shows up, but not often.

if there is not much public applause or positive sanctions, you
can stake out your territory and become a major player. If the area
is important, but inherently a non-profit activity, your competition
will be mostly amateurs. This allows a dedicated person to become
a leader.

you want an example of the consummate modern master of such service,
study the career of Mother Teresa. She helped orphans in Bangladesh.
With full-time dedication and a manual typewriter, she quietly created
an international service organization that helped tens of thousands
of people. I think it was Peter Drucker who said that if any profit-seeking
business was equally large, the director would require a multi-story
building and a support staff. She ran it from Bangladesh with a
manual typewriter. She even replied to me in a letter.

did she do it? By sticking with it. The project was worth doing.
No one else was doing it. In a Muslim nation, a Catholic nun was
respected and even loved. She performed a crucial service for which
there was no money in Bangladesh to pay, so she raised money from
the West. She received thanks by the end of her career — acclaim
and fame beyond what most fame-seekers ever dream of. That’s because
she did it without any intention of seeking fame.

doubt seriously that she ever took a management course. She probably
never read Dale Carnegie’s How
To Win Friends and Influence People
. If she did, she did
not take it seriously. When the Clintons invited her in 1994 to
appear with them at the National Prayer Breakfast, she gave a talk
in which she mentioned the evil of abortion.

saw a need and went out to fill it as best she could.

is worth noting that her organization has a waiting list of volunteers
who are willing to spend their lives in selfless service, while
other liberalized, modernized Catholic orders are shrinking from
a lack of replacements.


average American Protestant pastor stays at one congregation for
about 5 years. Then he moves on. He never builds up what the Communists
called a cadre. The members know that he will move on if he is successful,
or if he gets bored, or if he confronts problems that don’t go away

congregation’s lay leaders dig in and wait out the pastor, who come
and go. Pastors find that they face roadblocks in their ministries
because the laymen in the boards know that they hold the hammer,

pastor who sticks for a decade begins to get his way. He wears out
the laymen. If the pastor is both patient and prudent, he can outlast
the opponents. He has the pulpit. They don’t.

in the mainline denominations figured this out over a century ago.
If they could gain control the denomination’s national boards, which
were full-time paid positions, they could outlast the laymen and
pastors at the General Assemblies. What they forgot was attrition.
When old members died, they were not replaced by young members.
Because the liberals made the church seem more like the world, outsiders
figured that they could keep their tithes and offerings for themselves,
and use their Sunday mornings for amusement. The mainline denominations
wound up with too many chiefs and not enough braves: leaders with
a declining number of followers. But this took a century. The liberals
dug in; their opponents came and went. The liberals had a long-term
plan. The conservatives didn’t.

a geographical location and dig in. Don’t leave. Don’t answer the
call of more money elsewhere. Become a fixture in the community.
Become reliable people who are called on, year after year, to show
up at meetings. Most people will not show up. Those who do will
wind up in the positions of leadership. Woody Allen once said that
80% of success is just showing up. He was right.

familiar face is a trusted face. A person can get away with almost
anything if he is one of the town’s good old boys. The smaller the
town, the truer this is. As Hyde’s book shows, a person who has
shown up for years can slowly move an organization in almost any
direction he chooses unless there is someone else on the other side
who is equally faithful organizationally and equally self-conscious.
There rarely is.


years, I have told people, "Authority flows to those who take

people do not want to take responsibility. They are risk-aversive.
They would rather not succeed than risk failing in public. The person
who wants to lead can take advantage of this preference on the part
of most people.

responsibility where no one else wants it. Along with responsibility
comes authority. It is a package deal.

person who is willing to accept the blame for failure, but allow
others to gain the credit for any success, can run the show from
behind the scenes. The old line is true: "Success has many
fathers. Failure in an orphan." If a person is willing to claim
responsibility for the failure, he gets to make policy.

man who, more than anyone else, was responsible for the American
libertarian movement, was a master of this strategy. He never took
any credit, but he extended a lot of it. He wrote the checks. He
did this for decades, invisibly. He would fund a project for three
years. If it worked, the project’s director would get all credit.
If it failed, he would fund another project. After the man’s death,
his nephew followed the same policy. The nephew put up the loan
money in 1946 to allow Leonard Read to start FEE. The fund’s money
also financed Ludwig von Mises’ graduate students. It funded Murray
Rothbard when Rothbard could not get a teaching job. It funded F.
A. Harper, who used the fund’s money to publish Rothbard’s masterpiece,
Economy, and State
(1962). In her later years, it funded
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who was a dedicated
libertarian. It funded me in the crucial summer after my graduation
from college. If you were to trace back the conservative/libertarian
movement before the Hiss-Chambers case in 1948, most roads lead
to his checkbook. But nobody ever follows the money.

avoided publicity like a plague. For four decades, he was one of
the most influential private citizens in Kansas City, Missouri.
Yet you have never heard of him. His name was William Volker. The
civic leaders in Kansas City had no awareness of his work in libertarianism.
The libertarians had no awareness of him at all.

is a biography of him titled, appropriately, Mr. Anonymous.
Almost no one has ever read it, which would have pleased him. If
you read any history of American conservatism, there will be no
reference to the work of the Volker Fund. That, too, would have
pleased him. (The Fund’s papers are in the Hoover Institution, which
received the distribution of the Fund’s assets a quarter century
ago. The Fund’s story would make a very useful doctoral dissertation,
a rare item indeed.)


call my strategy the dogcatcher strategy. You have heard the phrase,
"I wouldn’t elect him for dogcatcher." So, run against
him. Start at the bottom. Scrub the toilets. Do the work that nobody
else wants until the system depends on you. Keep learning. Keep
improving yourself. Stick to your knitting.


North is the author of Mises
on Money
. To subscribe to his free
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