Thursday, August 28, 2008

More on Europe, Taming My Inner Tyrant

The most recent post generated some good ideas from a couple of family members. From Cousin Susan:

  • Buy air tickets at regular price, and then try to apply the Frequent Flyer miles to getting an upgrade. That'd work (if Delta/NWA does that). Suze suggested doing that by booking via a travel agent.
  • On the subject of travel gear, she suggested one of the following for a decent rain jacket:
    Eddie Bauer
    L.L. Bean
    Land's End

None of these places is exactly cheap, but I'm going to be wearing said stuff for ~3 weeks, and it'd be nice to know that whatever I buy is going to hold up. So anyway, I've got some ideas.

Uncle Terry (one of the many traveling Irishmen in my family) and I talked last night. The first thing he recommended, after I'd plunked down $99+ for my "Rocket German" class were some free language classes via the British Broadcasting Company (BBC):

Well, maybe I can save money on my French and Italian.

Uncle Terry is also a big advocate of American Express. He'd convinced me to get an Amex card, which he said should offer the following benefits:

  • No charges to me during a billing dispute
  • Free medical insurance
  • Prescription registration
  • Lower/better currency exchange rates

I suggested that he be a salesman for American Express, as he's quite the advocate. "They don't want someone my age," was his retort. Huhrumph. Weird job market.

Anyhow, on the subject of booking, he strongly suggested booking online directly with the airline rather than going through additional middlemen (airline reservations, travel agents), each of which add their little surcharge onto the process. However, he did recommend calling NWA to figure out what I could get for my FF benefits. A phone call or two couldn't hurt, at any point.


One of the reasons I've avoided management positions for so long (much to my father's dismay) is that I know I have a tendency toward tyranny, especially when side discussions and arguments appear to be sidetracking progress. I'd like to think of myself as a benevolent Irish monarch, but there are times when even the chieftans brought out their swords and clubs and said, "By damn, man! Everything would be fine if you'd just do things my way!" This reaction toward personal tyranny is also why I don't run for public office.

But the funny thing is, if I'm in a position where I know I've got to compromise, I'm fine. I'm also fine if I'm in a position where I've been put in charge--until someone holds up The Plan. I can usually keep myself balanced as long as a few things pertain:

  • There's not a lot of time pressure
  • There's not a lot of money involved
  • The basic premises of The Plan are not being questions, merely the details

However, inevitably, the longer one is in a leadership position, the longer one or more of the three conditions above is likely to be violated. And of course that's the real trick, isn't it? Leaders often work under pressure, with limited information, with a firm idea of what they WANT to happen, but with only a vague notion of the consequences of all possible decisions. And if they're wrong, they'll shoulder the blame and responsbility, and if they're right, they'll get only a share of the glory.

I've been studying leadership for years because the way people behave under all these variables is of great interest to me. I've tried to keep myself in structured situations that don't put me in a lot of danger of testing my leadership limits. People are funny animals, and I'm never entirely certain of my ability to work with them well. I'm also constantly in doubt about when it's time for democratic, group-based decisions and when it's time for individual, unilateral decisiveness by one person. Each situation is unique, and different individuals, groups, and situations require different types of leadership behavior.

Perhaps I've been such a student of leadership because I've seen what good things can be done through words and actions (Kennedy sending a nation to the Moon, King leading a nation toward equal rights for all), and I've seen what evil or stupidity can be unleashed by a petty tyrant (anything from simple micromanagement to Hitleresque evils). Leadership is a two-edged sword: a single person might make decisions more quickly, but that single individual isn't always right, and the suffering he creates increases exponentially by the size of the error and the number of people affected by it.

Hm. Well, I'm not going to solve the basic problems of human nature and group dynamics tonight. All I really need to do is figure out how to negotiate between conflicting demands over something as simple as organizing a meeting. The decisions only get tougher the higher you go in any organization. I can either get used to it, or quit trying to lead anyone. Unfortunately, that Irish chieftan always lurks beneath the surface--convinced that everyone will follow him if he's just sufficiently charming--and who can just as easily draw the club or sword if his plans are crossed.

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