The next lesson we learn from Edmund Burke, and his list of qualities of the Natural Aristocracy, is the importance of a developed mind. To lead men, to gain their trust, virtues of the mind must be developed to excellence.
The Proverbs often speak of the virtues of wisdom and of understanding in leadership.
“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
and I find knowledge and discretion.
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
I have counsel and sound wisdom;
I have insight; I have strength.
By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
by me princes rule,
and nobles, all who govern justly.
– Proverbs 8:12-16 ESV
When we look at the political history of nations we can see the truth of the above scripture. Among the kings, queens, and aristocracy of times past, there is a tendency for a generation or two to forget wisdom and sound judgement. In their pride they leave their duties to others. As we can see from the results of the French Revolution, it doesn’t pay off in the end.
What kind of mental development is required for a leader? Edmund Burke answered well.
To stand upon such elevated ground as to be enabled to take a large view of the wide-spread and infinitely diversified combinations of men and affairs in a large society.
As a leader it is necessary to be able to look at the big picture constantly, obviously not to the point of forgetting the here and now, but the failure many have is in ignoring where they are going in the long term.
As a young boy I learned this lesson from the examples of others. Being a precocious boy, I would sit and listen to the adults talking with my parents. Often when a man or woman complained they simply wallowed in their difficulties, in life or at work. They possessed no notion of how to extricate themselves from the problems at hand because they couldn’t see past them.
Among the traits John Adams was known for was “seeing large things largely,” as Scotsman William Alexander put it. This was because he was able to take in the entire situation without becoming overwhelmed. Not everyone naturally possesses this ability but it can and should be, developed. As a leader you are ineffectual if you cannot look into the future, take into account the present circumstances and judge an appropriate plan of action.
To have leisure to read, to reflect, to converse
I have often said to myself and others, “So much to read, so little time.” If you wish to properly lead and serve others it is necessary to make that time. Of what use is it to stop learning? The moment a man or woman does that they become useless, for there are always new things, new ideas to add to our understanding and thoughts.
When you seek to help others best, you begin to understand that to do so requires adding to the knowledge you already possess. Rarely will you find any teacher or leader of significance that doesn’t add to their knowledge continually.
But adding to present knowledge through reading is not enough. One must reflect upon that knowledge and learn to converse about it intelligently. By meditation, the information is sorted out in our minds, allowing the ties between old and new information to form, improving our understanding of the topics and ideas that are presented.
Conversation is the final step to processing the information. I have noted before that you don’t have a grasp on the information until you can teach it to your grandmother. At that point, when you can explain your ideas in the simplest manner to others, you fully comprehend it.
Dealing with Intellectuals
To be enabled to draw the court and attention of the wise and learned, wherever they are to be found
Despite all you study, and all you learn, there will always be someone smarter, cleverer, and wittier. They key is to be able to hold conversation with these individuals without appearing foolish.
Most learned individuals are surprised when a leader knows something about their work, or can discuss what they are passionate about with a degree of intelligence. These are the people that provide excellent counsel on things you may not be as familiar with, and their advice is valuable. Prove to them that you are worth investing time in and they are often willing to do it.
Develop Vision – Exercise your foresight. You cannot provide vision to others until you can make one for yourself. Take time to look at history, for history repeats itself in human nature, which never changes.
Develop Ideas – Take the time to read more, specifically good, interesting books that add to your knowledge. Develop those ideas through meditation and conversation. Learn to accurately describe what you are thinking and teach it to others.
Develop Acquaintances – As a leader, it is valuable to have a network of acquaintances in academic and private circles. They can help with ideas and clear up any misconceptions you may have on a topic they are familiar with. Additionally, they can provide much needed advice and support in any goals you have.
This lesson is one I am glad to say the agricultural community I am in is learning. There are few more encouraging things than going to a conference, seeing the new and old faces, people coming there to learn new things, to clarify existing ideas, and to talk with old and new friends. By doing this, sharpening our talents and ideas, we improve our abilities to serve our customers, to become better stewards of the food we raise.