Disciplined Leadership

Disciplined Leadership

True leaders are made, not just born

by Nicholas Dungan

Leadership takes work. To be sure, some individuals come into this world with qualities and talents that suit them well for future leadership: charisma, articulateness, penetrating insight, an impressive presence. But just as is the case for an athlete or an artist, these natural gifts will be of little use if they are not exercised, trained and sustained. Discipline is required both to develop leadership initially and to maintain it thereafter.

For that discipline to be made manifest and to prove effective, one must recognise the basic requirements and core components of true leadership. These are: self-possession, integrity and vision.

Self-possession is more than social poise
The term ‘self-possession’ often refers to not losing one’s cool in public or in social circumstances, but the self-possession required of a leader or future leader goes much further than that and incorporates the entire possession of oneself from a physical, intellectual and spiritual as well as a social perspective.

The leader’s physical self-possession results not only from self-restraint but from self-improvement. Azorín, in the opening words of El Político, says ‘The primary requirement of a statesman is physical strength. His body must be healthy and strong.’ — and in our time this is obviously a truth universally acknowledged as being equally applicable to female and male leaders alike. Regular challenging physical exercise and the practice of one or more competitive sports provide a constant stimulus and testing of the self; if performed in a strenuous enough fashion, they move the leader or future leader quite literally outside her or his comfort zone, enabling them to withstand discomfort and even pain. They expand the leader’s appreciation of her or his own capabilities and they contribute to the leader’s sense of accomplishment. In a similar but contrasting way, the self-discipline that is necessary to eat and drink sparingly, to maintain optimum weight as well as overall fitness, is conducive both to a sense of self-control and to an image of power and style.

Intellectual self-possession involves thinking about how well we are thinking, about questioning one’s assumptions, recognising that one does not have all the answers. The consequence of intellectual self-possession is an unquenchable thirst for lifelong learning, an insatiable appetite for intelligence — not just information — which drives the leader or future leader not only towards contemporary best thinking but chiefly to the wisdom of the ages contained in lessons from history, philosophy and mind-expanding fiction. Adding a creative activity — music, writing, photography, art — diverts the leader’s attention away from the weighty issues of the day, as Winston Churchill describes so delightfully in his charming essay ‘Painting as a Pastime’, and offers an outlet that expands the leader’s scope of sensitivity and discernment.

Spiritual self-possession is encouraged through the study of philosophy, the recognition of the lessons of the great religions and the leader’s own capacity for contemplation and meditation.

Thus equipped with hard-earned self-possession, the leader or future leader is prepared to interact with others. She or he will be economical with words, naturally inclined to listen, comfortable with silence. She or he will project serenity, indifference to display, good humour — and a sense of humour — even, indeed especially, in adversity. Such outward and visible signs of an inward and individual equilibrium create an aura of respect and even mystery around the leader, which the leader will know how to use to her or his advantage when the time is ripe.

Integrity is holistic
In everyday parlance, integrity signifies honesty, uprightness, ethical probity, fair dealing. The word derives from the Latin integer which etymologically means ‘un-touched’ and therefore untainted or pure. We can and should expect disciplined leaders to display integrity of this kind.

But integer also means ‘whole’, ‘complete’, ‘entire’. In English, ‘integrity’ has somewhat lost this signification, yet in this broader, more encompassing construction, integrity applies acutely well to leaders and future leaders. Beyond good behaviour, they must demonstrate unimpeachable character, the willingness to accept responsibility, the ability to incur risks, the courage to face danger, the resolve to carry on regardless, the implacability to endure contumely, the steadfastness to steer through turbulence, tempests and turmoil. We have every right to hold our leaders to this standard of wholeness.

Vision respects reality
Visionary leaders provide not just a policy but a purpose.They set higher goals than their own ambitions or the attainment of empty or easy gains. They curve their conception above the here and now. They designate a destination that arches beyond time and place. They offer to their followers both an aspiration to achieve and the inspiration to believe that their purpose is valid and that it is veritable. Far from promising what they cannot deliver, or chasing an impossible dream, they anchor their judgements in a sense of reality that respects the facts, calculates the contingencies and is infused with the awareness of the all-too-human hopes and fears of their followers.

True leaders will be followed
Having developed and maintained these essential qualities of leadership — self-possession, integrity and vision — how can a leader be sure of winning followers? One cannot be a leader if there is noone there to be led. The answer lies in the effect the leader produces upon others: the essential effect of true leadership is the empowerment of others. From that empowerment will flow those followers’ conviction that the leader is worthy of their trust, their faith and their destiny.

Authentic Influence

Authentic Influence

Thinking it through before acting upon it

by Nicholas Dungan

Before we attempt to exercise influence, we ought to analyse what we mean by influence and what the meaning of that influence implies.

First and foremost, if we are decent people seeking to use our influence towards benificent ends, the influence we wish to exercise must be authentic: genuine, heartfelt, inspired by good will and intended to create good will. To be authentic, such influence must be both legitimate on the part of the person exercising influence and voluntary on the part of the person being influenced.

To be legitimate, the influence we wish to exercise must be ethical in its ends and in its means. This influence does not allow for anything dubious, unseemly or illegal, nor even slightly suspect, a bit dodgy, disingenuous: nothing underhanded, no cutting corners, not two-faced.

Authentic influence must also be voluntary on the part of the person being influenced. The art of persuasion is just that: the ability to inspire others to act in the way that we desire them to act, but based on the consent, the acquiescence, even the enthusiasm of those others.

For influence to be voluntary, there is one aspect that must be missing: fear. Influence exercised by creating anxiety, or making threats, or using intimidation, is negative influence. This putrid sort of influence will be resented by others and will last only until they can find a way to avoid it or reject it or overcome it.

The triangulation of trust
Once we have determined that the influence we wish to cultivate must be authentic, legitimate and voluntary, then we can examine the components which make up authentic influence. These components are the truth, the sense of reality and awareness of ‘the other’. Together they constitute a triangle that inspires trust on the part of those whom we wish to influence.

The value of the truth should be obvious, but in our day and age sometimes seems to be under threat. Yet the apprehension that we live in a ‘post-truth’ era of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ actually serves to make the truth more valuable, not less. All philosophies and all religions have always emphasised the centrality of the truth. The Buddha said: ‘Three things can not hide for long: the Moon, the Sun and the Truth.’ Respecting the truth requires courage and character. And if we deviate from the truth, our influence will not last long, nor be effective, nor be benificent, because
others will not trust us.

If the opposite of the truth is falsehood, the opposite of the sense of reality is denial, or delusion. The eminent philosopher Bertrand Russell, when asked for his advice to future generations, gave this guidance on how to confront situations: ask yourself first ‘What are the facts?’. If we attempt to influence others based on illusion, or an idealised version of reality, or an artificial intellectual construct, then, even if we are deemed ethical and truthful by those others, we will still be written off as dreamers disconnected from the real world, and we will fail to exercise our influence.

The third side of the triangle of trust, along with the truth and the sense of reality, is awareness of ‘the other’. We can try to influence all we want, but without the other, there is nobody to receive our influence. Even more than this, the way we design and project and gauge our influence should be largely a function of who the other is, how we judge her or his receptivity, what we think her or his sensitivities are that will allow our influence to be appreciated, and received voluntarily. This applies just as much, indeed more, when ‘the other’ is actually several, or many, others.

Ancient wisdom, modern intelligence
We should not be surprised to learn that the art of authentic influence which we think we have unearthed for ourselves was actually articulated long ago. Aristotle, in his Rhetoric, identified three modes of the art of persuasion: ethos, logos and pathos.

• Ethos applies to the speaker and the speaker’s ethics and reputation. Ethos requires the truth.
• Logos means the message, the substance of the influence. Logos requires the sense of reality.
• Pathos refers to the emotions through which our audience receives our influence. Pathos requires awareness of the other.

the truththe sense of realitythe other
influence / leadermessage / substanceemotions / soft skills

Professional Empowerment

Professional Empowerment

Success comes through the science of soft skills

by Nicholas Dungan

Professionals do not succeed just by doing their jobs. They succeed by how they do their jobs.

Career success exemplifies the 80-20 rule. Fully 80 per cent of the ability to succeed in one’s working life depends on a mere 20 per cent of what one does. You have to do the 80 per cent just to get your job done, but that constitutes only 20 per cent of the success of your career. The other 80 per cent of success depends on the remaining 20 per cent of time and effort, and that key 20 per cent concerns largely the science of soft skills.

The value of soft skills
Professionals and executives, from mid-career to CEO level, need to enhance their leadership and influence skills, for their own benefit in managing their work and their careers, and for the benefit of the organisations they serve. Developing their soft skills helps to reinforce these professionals’ management expertise and sensibilities and, in so doing, serves to magnify these professionals’ effectiveness within their organisations and beyond.

Process of a soft skills programme
In large organisations, when select groups of professionals are drawn from different disciplines, specialisations and geographies, working together on soft skills — under the tutelage of an experienced advisor — serves to increase collegiality among the professionals and intensify their shared culture by offering them the opportunity to interact with each other and to create joint approaches to practical, stimulating, inspirational issues beyond their daily responsibilities.

Similarly, individual senior managers, C-suite executives and CEOs themselves can benefit from a personalised, bespoke soft-skills awareness programme, again under the tutelage of an experienced advisor. Concentrating on soft skills helps to position these professionals as influencers both within their organisations and in their broader business communities and ecosystems.

Although a soft skills programme can take many forms, especially when tailored to the specific requirements of an individual or group, it is helpful to think of it in four movements.

First Movement: Understanding influence and leadership
• Without this introductory phase, the deployment of soft skills is devoid of adequate context.

Second Movement: Exercising influence and leadership — skills and techniques
• This movement focuses on work I need to do on myself to achieve leadership and influence.

Third Movement: Exercising influence and leadership in organisations and society
• This movement examines how to deploy my leadership and influence capabilities.

Fourth Movement: You the influencer and leader
• And this final movement pulls together the strands of who I am as a leader and influencer.

First Movement: Understanding influence and leadership
• What do we mean by ‘influence’?
• The art of authentic influence
• What’s the purpose of influence?
• Influence and awareness
• Influence and leadership are not the same
• The art of authentic leadership
• The dilemma of ‘it depends’
• Five forms of influence
• Main methods of influence
• Benefits of a strategy of influence

Second Movement: Exercising influence and leadership — skills and techniques
• How to shine with no time to prepare
• How to read a room
• How to own a room
• How to deal with the media
• The challenge of social media
• How to write a speech
• How to deliver a speech
• How to write an article in 1/2 hour
• Talking and listening
• Zooming

Third Movement: Exercising influence and leadership in organisations and society
• What are my business ecosystems?
• Working within organisations and groups
• Authority vs example
• Managing up, down and sideways
• Concepts of engagement
• Value of engagement
• Strategies of engagement
• Techniques of engagement
• Negotiation
• Business development

Fourth Movement: You the influencer
• Creating a strategy of influence
• Building networks of influence
• Value or vanity of networking
• Are you a hedgehog or a fox?
• Managing yourself
• Becoming your own persona
• Choices: you, your company, the client
• Representing your organisation
• The value of awareness
• Benefits of a strategy of influence redux

Methodology of a soft skills programme

The topics in such a soft skills programme should be covered through a Socratic approach. The advisor poses a scenario, or mini-case study, or problem. Contained within these questions — and therefore within the answers to the questions and within the subsequent discussion — are the topics of influence and leadership embedded in that approach to soft skills. The advisor should also provide stimulating examples, summaries of content and positive feedback.

Effective Strategy

Effective Strategy

Precision, then process

by Nicholas Dungan

Strategy consists of a clear, realistic goal and a clear, realistic path to that goal. That is all. Anything else is not strategy. Dreams or vague objectives do not constitute strategy: ‘increase market share’, ‘make the world a better habitat’, ‘be the best’ may be inspirational or aspirational mottos, but they are not strategy. They do not specify a clear, realistic goal nor a clear, realistic path to that goal.

Effective strategy depends on one precondition — precision — and thereupon unfolds in five movements which constitute the essential direction of the strategic process.

The precondition of precision requires deciding the scope and purpose of the strategy. Is it to increase market share? If so by how much, when, in which markets, through what means? Does it apply to a specific service or product of the enterprise, or a given geographic market or market segment? Is it primarily driven by customer needs, competitive pressure, technological change? Or is it ‘grand strategy’, comprising all the strategic elements germane to the organisation over the long term? For a nation, a company or any other form of societal organisation, the first imperative of strategy is to debate and define in precise terms what kind of strategy is being contemplated, what it is meant to achieve, what it is for.

Once this precondition of precision has been satisfied — and the discussion and analysis needed to meet the preconditon are highly valuable exercises in and of themselves — then the process of strategy with its five main movements can begin. We refer to these as movements, not stages or steps, because, like the movements of a symphony, they fit together, are intertwined and succeed each other perhaps in different tempos and timbres but always with a similar leitmotiv, which is that the whole strategic process serves the precise strategic purpose.

The five movements are:
• assessment: where we are today
• objectives: where we want to go
• action plan: how we are going to get there
• implementation: putting the plan into practice
• impact: evaluating how well we have done.

These movements encompass the following components.

1 Assessment
• Assemble a multi-disciplinary team from within the organisation with clear top-level commitment.
• Review all available sources of applicable strategic intelligence within the organisation.
• Examine the organisation’s strategic performance today, benchmark it against competitors.
• Score the organisation vis-à-vis best-practices strategic thinking on the strategic topic selected.
• Deliverable: appraisal and analysis together with concrete, detailed, practical recommendations.

2 Objectives
• Achieve clarity and consistency on the alignment of the organisation’s purpose and strategy.
• Enumerate and prioritise the stakeholders, internal and external, of the organisation’s strategy.
• Construct transformation maps of the cross-cutting thematics, types of expertise to deploy.
• Examine sub-set strands concerning distinct business lines, geographies, other variations.
• Deliverable: clarity and consensus on this strategy’s desired outcomes and desired impact.

3 Action Plan
• Compose a playbook to apply to all organisation strategy experts, spokespersons, practitioners.
• Plan with this organisation team all priority action items: content, format, outreach.
• Determine optimal sequencing and scheduling of the strategy’s action items.
• Design implementation scenarios by all organisation representatives with CRM-type follow-up.
• Deliverable: written and oral presentations to the organisation’s management and governance.

4 Implementation
• Designate an in-house task force within the organisation to centralise and manage the strategy.
• Execute a phased multi-stakeholder action plan involving relevant organisation representatives.
• Capitalise on existing relationships to capture the full range of multi-stakeholder networks.
• Produce multi-platform output, outreach; monitor roll-out based on CRM methodology.
• Deliverable: multi-year strategic plan translated into focused, measurable action steps.

5 Impact
• Establish clear, timed results and measurement criteria across the range of strategy initiatives.
• Set specific guidelines to determine desired quantitative and qualitative impact of strategic goals.
• Employ professional external evaluation methods (eg surveys) for objective impact assessment.
• Utilise the impact evaluation to critique assessment, objectives, action plan and implementation.
• Deliverable: analysis of performance, recommendations on course corrections for the future.

Such a complete strategic exercise can take place over several months or several years and, indeed, at the end of the final movement, impact, should in principle be renewed da capo. It is of course possible — and in most organisations will probably be deemed more practical — to take one step at a time and thus to begin with the precondition of precision, defining the strategy, and then a piece of the first movement, assessment, in a preliminary and limited fashion, after which the organisation and its decision-makers can determine the most effectual way forward.

Le Fil de l’épée


Le Fil de l’épée

Charles de Gaulle’s masterpiece on leadership—and himself

by Nicholas Dungan

In the concise canon of genuinely ingenious books on leadership—of which Machiavelli’s The Prince is perhaps the most celebrated and the most cited—Charles de Gaulle’s Le Fil de l’épée [The Edge of the Sword1] can rightly claim pride of place. The work has often been described as 1 the handbook on  leadership which the younger scholar-soldier Charles wrote for the later politician-statesman de Gaulle. (The General was wont, like Julius Cæsar in The Gallic War, to refer to himself in the third person).

De Gaulle is to France as Churchill is to Britain

In the English-speaking world, the personage Charles de Gaulle was widely misconstrued in his time as a gratuitously irascible character embodying all the tetchiness and pretentiousness that those who do not know French society from the inside so often associate with the personality of French people. Happily, more than one recent biography in English has served to rectify that misconception. In France, on the other hand, the towering figure of de Gaulle has become as unjustifiably idealised, and as unjustly vilified, as Winston Churchill in America or Britain.

The relationship between the two, during the Second World War, was characterised by intense admiration and incandescent irritation, leading Churchill, according to legend, to quip: ‘the heaviest cross I have to bear is the Cross of Lorraine’, which was the symbol of the Free French led by de Gaulle. But for all their similarity as acolytes of History and each one’s conviction that he would become—as each one clearly did become—a man of destiny and thereafter a man of letters, they were nonetheless products of different personal backgrounds and professional vocations.

Charles becomes de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle was born in 1890 in Lille to a traditional Roman Catholic family. His father was a professor of history and literature. De Gaulle was educated in Paris and then admitted to the St Cyr military academy in 1909. He served in the First World War, much of his time as a German prisoner of war despite five escape attempts, and thereafter held command positions in the 1920s in Poland, in the French-occupied Rhineland and later in France’s League of Nations mandate of Lebanon and Syria.

De Gaulle goes on stage at the École de Guerre

From the mid-1920s onwards de Gaulle became a protégé of Marshal Philippe Pétain, the ‘Lion of Verdun’ and victor of the Great War (who, later, in his dotage and to his shame, would be the chief of state of Vichy France under Nazi domination). In April 1927, Captain de Gaulle, introduced by Pétain in person and himself clad in full uniform including sabre, delivered three set-piece lectures to senior officers at the École de Guerre staff college in Paris. These three lectures—‘The Conduct of War’, ‘Of Character’ and ‘Of Prestige’—were to constitute the core of Le Fil de l’épée. Five years later, in 1932, the book was published with the addition of a revised version of a previous article which became the fourth chapter, ‘Of Doctrine’, as well as a new, fifth and final, chapter, ‘Of Politics and the Solider’.

Throughout the work, de Gaulle repudiates the melancholia of the then- beleaguered French army and issues a clarion call to return to its glory days of yore. In a stance both philosophical but also highly practical in military terms, he stresses, especially in ‘The Conduct of War’ and ‘Of Doctrine’, the necessity to shape military strategy and tactics based on circumstances and reality, not theory or dogma; he cites Henri Bergson on the need ‘to achieve direct contact with reality’ and to train one’s mind to ‘acquire intuition by combining instinct with intelligence’. In this, de Gaulle is in uncanny parallel with Sir Isaiah Berlin’s later—and otherwise unrelated—essays, ‘The Sense of Reality’ and ‘Political Judgement’. (See CogitoPraxis book review of Berlin’s The Sense of Reality.)

Portrait of a leader

Above all, however, the significance of Le Fil de l’épée lies in its lessons on leadership, chiefly contained in ‘Of Character’ and ‘Of Prestige’. Indeed, today, we would translate de Gaulle’s prestige in French as ‘leadership’ in English.

In ‘Of Character’ after a lament at the loss of will of the French armed forces throughout much of the 19th century, de Gaulle describes the ‘Man of Character’ who will reverse this ill fortune. In still more uplifting and near-poetic prose in ‘Of Prestige’, de Gaulle identifies and elaborates upon the ingredients of successful leadership: natural aptitude, innate talent, giftedness honed by practice, mystery, reserve both in gesture and word, the power of silence, a capacity for decision-making, ardour and, again, character. De Gaulle sums up the ‘conditions of leadership’ as ‘réserve, caractère, grandeur’ which in today’s English we would render as self-possession, character and vision.

Le Fil de l’épée contains profound, powerful, permanent wisdom through its incomparable insights into the shaping of oneself in preparation for great events and great achievements; the development of character through the disciplined acquisition of courage and skill; and the adoption of a long-term, big-picture, history-making ambition. Twice in his subsequent career, at the fall of France in 1940 and at the brink of insurrection in 1958, Charles de Gaulle saved his beloved motherland by applying the lessons he himself had taught in Le Fil de l’épée.

1. The book was translated into English by the translator and novelist Gerard Hopkins, nephew of the poet Gerard Manley 1 Hopkins, and was published as The Edge of the Sword in 1960. It was reviewed in the New York Times by Sir Denis Brogan. Contemporary readers will, however, find the translation largely unavailable and would best read the tempus edition in French, published by Perrin with a thorough foreword by Hervé Gaymard.

The Sense of Reality


The Sense of Reality

Isaiah Berlin brings a philosophical perspective to practical leadership

by Nicholas Dungan

The intellectual production of Sir Isaiah Berlin constitutes so vast and so varied an œuvre that it is not surprising to find, in the compilation of discrete writings gathered together in the book entitled The Sense of Reality, a wide diversity of subjects and ideas. Yet its first two essays, ‘The Sense of Reality’ and ‘Political Judgement’, offer an uncanny insight into a sine qua non of  authentic leadership and influence : the willingness, and the ability, to see the facts for what they are.

Berlin became the 20th century’s great historian of ideas

Isaiah Berlin was born in Riga, now the capital of Latvia and then a city in the Russian Empire, in 1909, into a wealthy Jewish family of timber merchants. As a child, when he and his parents had moved to Petrograd (today St Petersburg), he witnessed the violence and upheaval of the Russian Revolution firsthand. The family emigrated to England where Berlin attended St Paul’s School in London before going up to Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He received a prize fellowship at All Souls at the age of 23 and spent the rest of his career in Oxford, save during the Second World War when he worked for the British government in New York, Washington DC and Moscow. In the 1960s, when he was Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory, Berlin was one of the founders and the first president of the new Wolfson College, Oxford. He was president of the British Academy from 1974 to 1978. He received his knighthood in 1957, and was named to the Order of Merit in 1971. He died in Oxford in 1997, aged 88.

Berlin is probably best known for his essay ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ and the distinction he drew between negative liberty, the freedom from oppression or obligation, and positive liberty, the freedom to develop oneself and to make one’s own choices. He became, also, the exponent of ‘value pluralism’, arguing that human values are many and can and do conflict with other values without diminishing the worthiness of individual values themselves. Berlin’s intellectual prowess stretches well beyond these two core philosophical elements, making him, in the words of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, an ‘historian of ideas, political theorist, educator, public intellectual and moralist, and essayist. He was renowned for his conversational brilliance, his defence of liberalism and pluralism, his opposition to political extremism and intellectual fanaticism, and his accessible, coruscating writings on people and ideas.’

Much of Berlin’s work might have been lost were it not for Henry Hardy, who has devoted a great deal of his professional career to the painstaking unearthing of Berlin’s formidable output, often dispersed or forgotten—a virtually lifelong vocation which Hardy recounts in his charming and illuminating In Search of Isaiah Berlin. Without Hardy, more than a million words of Berlin’s would almost certainly have remained unfound, uncatalogued and unpublished.

The book The Sense of Reality roams through a wide field of knowledge

Henry Hardy compiled and edited The Sense of Reality, first published in 1996, and in it he decided to include, in addition to the two opening essays, writings by Berlin on ‘Philosophy and Government Repression’, socialism and Marxism, Kant, the Russian legacy of artistic commitment and ‘Rabindranath Tagore and the Consciousness of Nationality’. Also among the essays is ‘The Romantic Revolution: A Crisis in the History of Modern Thought’, originally a lecture delivered in Rome in 1960 and a precursor to Berlin’s brilliant and revelatory book The Roots of Romanticism, from the Mellon Lectures of 1965.

The essays ‘The Sense of Reality’ and ‘Political Judgement’ give lessons on leadership

In ‘The Sense of Reality’ essay, derived from a lecture delivered at Smith College in October 1953, Berlin takes issue with the ‘system-builders’ who seek to explain human behaviour in scientific or quasi-scientific terms, or those who wish to duplicate some idealised past. Acknowledging that
‘[p]lans for human improvement…assume some degree of understanding of the way in which social life occurs’, Berlin castigates ‘the view that answers…can be provided by formulating general laws, from which the past and future of individuals and societies can be successfully predicted’ and instead argues in favour of ‘the only method by which anything is ever achieved in practice, whether good or bad, the only method of discovery, the answer to the questions which are proper to historians, namely: What do men do and suffer, and why and how?’

It was in a BBC radio broadcast almost four years later, in June 1957, that Berlin defined the sense of reality more vividly; that broadcast is the text of the essay ‘Political Judgement’. ‘The gift we mean entails, above all, a capacity for integrating a vast amalgam of constantly changing, multicoloured, evanescent, perpetually overlapping data, too many, too swift, too intermingled to be caught and pinned down and labelled like so many individual butterflies. To integrate in this sense is to see the data (those identified by scientific knowledge as well as by direct perception) as elements in a single pattern, with their implications, to see them as symptoms of past and future possibilities, to see them pragmatically—that is, in terms of what you or others can or will do to them, and what they can or will do to others or to you. To seize a situation in this sense one needs to see, to be given a kind of direct, almost sensuous contact with the relevant data, and not merely to recognise their general characteristics, to classify them or reason about them, or analyse them, or reach conclusions and formulate theories about them.’

He goes on: ‘Above all, this is an acute sense of what fits with what, what springs from what, what leads to what…. It is a sense for what is qualitative rather than quantitative, for what is specific rather than general; it is a species of direct acquaintance’ with the facts at hand and a feeling for how they fit together and what their implications are. This quality, ‘that special understanding … which successful statesmen have’ is in fact an essential prerequisite to any form of leadership or influence. Along with respect fo the truth and an understanding of ‘the other’, there is no substitute for the sense of reality.




Harold Nicolson reveals the principles of professionalism

by Nicholas Dungan

Sir Harold George Nicolson KCVO CMG was the product of a patrician Victorian and Edwardian background and upbringing. The son of a future ambassador and the grandson of an admiral, he was born in Persia, where his father, later The Lord Carnock, was chargé d’affaires at the British Embassy.

Nicolson spent his childhood, inter alia, in Tehran, Budapest, Constantinople and Tangiers. He went away to school in England and attended Wellington College before going up to Oxford to study at Balliol, from which he graduated in 1907. Two years later he entered the Foreign Office and after the Great War was a member of the British delegation to the Paris Peace Conference which resulted in the Treaty of Versailles and became the subject of his book Peacemaking 1919.

During twenty years as a diplomat, then as a journalist and member of Parliament, he wrote prolifically throughout his whole life, including the official biography of King George V, which earned him his knighthood. He was married to the outrée and aristocratic Vita Sackville-West—both Harold and Vita engaged in affairs but Vita’s were legend—and, despite the ups and downs of their marriage, they remained intensely devoted to and supportive of each other, as recorded in their quotidian correspondence and in their son Nigel’s Portrait of a Marriage. They also created together the splendid gardens at Sissinghurst.

The diplomat writes Diplomacy

In 1939, Harold Nicolson published a short, highly readable, immensely informative and impressively authoritative review of the practice of international affairs, entitled simply Diplomacy. The book makes manifest Nicolson’s colossal cultural capital—across history, literature and diplomacy itself—enthralling and edifying the reader.

Nicolson begins with an examination of the ‘Origins of Organized Diplomacy’, taking care to scrutinise the diverging and sometimes casual definitions of diplomacy, opting above all for the most official, ‘the management of international relations by negotiation’. This initial chapter traces the history of diplomacy from ancient Greece and Rome through to modern times.

In a second chapter, ‘The Development of Diplomatic Theory’, Nicolson looks at diplomacy from the perspectives of international law, the influence of commerce, the role of morality. He continues this approach in ‘The Transition from the Old Diplomacy to the New’, incorporating the concept of a community of nations expressed initially in the Concert of Europe, the increasing importance of public opinion and the acceleration in means of communication. Not unnaturally, this gives way to a focus on ‘Democratic Diplomacy’, including its defects owing to divergent constitutional arrangements and its difficulties resulting from disorganised decision-making processes or the intrusive role of the media.

In the latter half of the book, as opposed to surveying properties of diplomacy as a whole, Nicolson treats distinct topics related to the diplomatic profession: ‘Types of European Diplomacy’, ‘Recent Changes in Diplomatic Practice’, ‘Points of Diplomatic Procedure’, ‘The Foreign Service’ and ‘Diplomatic Language’.

A pivotal position for the ideal diplomatist

Between these two halves, Nicolson inserts a chapter which belongs to neither and to both: the characteristics of the ‘ideal diplomatist’, a detailed description of the perfect practitioner of the diplomatic profession. In this portrait he stresses that the characteristics he singles out also constitute those of an ideal diplomacy, in other words an effective foreign policy. Nicolson echoes the admonitions of the primogenitor of the explication of diplomacy, François de Callières, whose De la manière de négocier avec les souverains, Nicolson says, ‘contains many wise and righteous precepts’ (see CogitoPraxis book review of Callières).

Emphasising that the effectiveness of the diplomatist and of a diplomatic policy must be adapted appropriately to time and place, Nicolson identifies a handful of characteristics which apply at all times and in all places. First and foremost of these is truthfulness: contrary to legend, the diplomat’s reliability and credibility depend on eschewing falsehood. Next is precision, both in speech and in writing; Nicolson underscores that much diplomatic communication is in written form, and the professional diplomat must be sure that his mode of expression is clear. After this Nicolson focuses on personal traits, the first of which is calm, unexcitedness, citing Talleyrand’s exhortation ‘Pas trop de zèle’ and extrapolating from that two ways in which calm manifests itself: good temper and patience. To all these Nicolson adds modesty, for one needs, says Nicolson quoting Callières, the ability to read the personality of the other. And lastly, Nicolson lists loyalty, adherence to one’s bearings.

Life lessons from Diplomacy

It will quickly be appreciated that these attributes of a diplomat and a diplomatic policy apply not only to the conduct of international relations but to all professional practice and all professional behaviour in all professional situations. Nicolson appears to realise this, for, in ending his chapter on the ideal diplomatist, he writes: ‘These, then, are the qualities of my ideal diplomatist. Truth, accuracy, calm, patience, good temper, modesty and loyalty. They are also the qualities of an ideal diplomacy. But, the reader may object, you have forgotten intelligence, knowledge, discernment, prudence, hospitality, charm, industry, courage and even tact. I have not forgotten them. I have taken them for granted.’

Aura-t-on une deuxième chance?


Aura-t-on une deuxième chance ?

La réelle Raison d’être de l’entreprise est soumise à l’horizon long

par Éliane Rouyer-Chevalier

mai 20201

Aura-t-on une deuxième chance ?

Une grande sidération s’est abattue sur nous en tant qu’être humain, nous renvoyant à nous- même, à notre extrême fragilité alors que les dernières décennies avec leur lot de progrès scientifique, d’amélioration indéniable de nos conditions de vie, sans parler des promesses de longévité absolue, nous ont embarqué dans une illusion d’invulnérabilité.

S’ensuit une période de grande confusion face aux décisions à prendre à court terme, aux peurs ancestrales, au questionnement sur la vie, la mort, le sens de l’existence.

Ces interrogations philosophiques et métaphysiques sont nécessaires et s’imposent à tous en tant que citoyen(ne), salarié(e) ou partenaire d’entreprise, membre de Conseil d’administration, responsable que nous sommes tous à titre individuel par rapport aux autres, à la communauté des humains de la planète terre.

Revenons à l’entreprise. Certains prennent prétexte de l’urgence à gérer cette crise économique sans précédent pour différer la mise en œuvre de la transition énergétique, comme si la première prévalait sur la seconde. D’autres, au contraire, plaident pour accélérer plus que jamais le tournant écologique considérant avec des yeux neufs notre façon de produire, consommer, bouger… En tout état de cause, après les efforts immédiats et considérables de l’État, ce sera bien des entreprises que naîtra le nouvel élan pour sortir de la crise économique. Et la possibilité pour leurs dirigeants d’asseoir un leadership d’un autre style, alliant courage et empathie.

Covid et changement climatique, Covid et biodiversité… l’enchainement des causes et des effets, s‘il n’est encore explicitement démontré, interroge de toute façon. L’excès en tout auquel nous étions arrivés n’est plus soutenable. Il y va de notre vie, il y va de la survie de nos enfants, la génération qui va nous succéder. L’urgence s’impose partout.

Certes colmater les brèches au plus vite, protéger la trésorerie de nos entreprises est un impératif vital. Mais sans étrangler à notre tour les fournisseurs ou les clients qui sont confrontés aux mêmes atermoiements de fonds de roulement.

Et tout en ayant les yeux rivés sur la jauge du cash-flow, ne perdons pas de temps et regardons plus loin. Tirons lucidement les leçons de cette période inimaginable, collaborons avec ceux qui, fort heureusement, feront partie de l’inventaire post-crise, pour travailler ensemble, imaginer de nouvelles solutions, écouter, comprfendre ce que les clients veulent, ce qui est essentiel, ce qui est plus accessoire.

Beaucoup d’entreprises s’étaient risquées à exprimer une Raison d’être. Déjà nous redoutions l’exercice un peu trop « communicant ». Le crash-test est là. La réelle Raison d’être de l’entreprise est soumise à l’épreuve de la sincérité et de l’horizon long.

Tirons parti de cette période hercynienne, pour nous réinventer en bonne intelligence avec les politiques, les syndicats, les citoyens, les étudiants—ceux qui croient dans l’Homme, son cœur et son intelligence.

Pas sûr que nous aurons une deuxième chance !

1 Ce commentaire a été publié pour la première fois sur LinkedIn le 5 mai 2020.

Strategic Significance of the US Elections


Strategic Significance of the US Elections

The good news also contains some daunting challenges

by Nicholas Dungan

November 2020

The sense of relief is palpable. The symbolism is powerful. After four years on the lunatic fringe, the United States of America might soon return to a form of recognisable normality, at home and abroad. The record voter turnout and the legitimate, if lengthy and laborious, election process have rebuilt a bit of faith in American democracy. The election as Vice President of Kamala Harris a highly competent, accomplished professional and a woman of both Asian and Caribbean-African descent, helps restore the US to its pedestal as a beacon of opportunity, an emblem of inclusiveness, all quite the opposite of the hostile, peevish, grotesque xenophobia of Trump.

Beyond the psychological effect, there are several practical benefits that arise from the election of Joe Biden as the president who will assume office on 20 January 2021. (Many have referred to Biden as the ‘next’ president of the United States but the era of Donald Trump is so volatile that to assume Trump will actually make it as far as January seems like a hypothesis that could be proved wrong; if Trump misfires, or quits, or some other surprise occurs, Mike Pence could end up being the ‘next’ president, his job then being to hand over the reins of power to Joe Biden on the day.)

The first practical benefit stems from the quality of the Biden team. Biden himself has a lifetime of experience in the Senate, the legislative branch, and as Vice President in the White House, the executive branch. Biden’s advisors are professionals and insiders. The fact that they are professionals means that they will pursue a policy agenda, not personal aggrandisement, so they will be predictable and trustworthy counterparts. It also means that they will make judgements based on rational policy criteria, not short-term political advantage or blind, unrealistic ideology.

The fact that they are insiders means that they know everybody: in DC, around the United States and throughout the world. This is an enormous advantage compared to the largely inexperienced Trump team, with its reliance on neophyte family members in key White House positions, and so many representatives of the Republican party establishment who had refused to work for the Trump administration. Professional insiders will make a huge difference in getting the business of government done—from the corona virus to climate change—both in domestic policy, particularly with the Congress, and in international relations, with a community of nations cautiously awaiting the United States as a responsible stakeholder in international affairs once again.

A further practical benefit, ironically, arises from the lack of a ‘blue wave’, that massive landslide in favour of the Democrats that would have been interpreted as total repudiation of the Republican party. The Democrat majority in the House of Representatives will be smaller than under Trump and the Senate looks to be quite evenly divided. As a result, nobody will expect the Biden administration to perform legislative or policy miracles. At the same time, the Republicans, though perhaps tainted by their subservience to Trump, can claim their status as a valid opposition party.

An evident additional practical benefit results from the open arms with which the future Biden administration is being welcomed by many world leaders. Even the UK, beset by a relatively inexperienced cabinet and a prime minister seen as too much like Trump, really need not worry: the Biden team will have little interest in settling scores, though they can clearly be counted upon to uphold the interests of the United States in a future UK-US trade negotiation. But their conviction that allies count, and the value they place on reliable relationships, will also underpin their attitude, even with a UK outside the EU. The UK is still a member of the UN Security Council, NATO and the Five Eyes intelligence network; the UK-US working relationship is vast and it is valuable.

Professionalism, experience, freedom from radical expectations and an international community waiting to engage: what more could one ask?

In his first speech as President-Elect, Joe Biden referred to the current moment as an inflection point. He is right. There is a need, as he stated himself in his January article in Foreign Affairs, to re-make American society from the ground up. He literally does need to ‘Make America Great Again’. There is also a need once again to be ‘Present at the Creation’ of a new world order. These are daunting challenges, but ones for which an older, seasoned president may well be suited.

The paradox lies in the existence of not one but two post-war periods, which policy makers have largely failed to acknowledge. One ‘Postwar’, from 1945 to 1989, worked. There was the free world, the communist world and the non-aligned world. International institutions worked because this world of the Cold War was ‘frozen’ and because nation-states dominated as sources of power and as limits to action. Countries, in the free world at least, could do what they wanted within their own borders. They remained masters of their own fate. So did the peoples in their societies.

The second post-war period, since 1989, has been disorganised globalisation. The nation-state is far from the dominant paradigm (which is why this writer teaches a course on non-state actors in international affairs). Society is divided between those perceived as the global elites—often distinguished as much by education, cultural mobility, open-mindedness and humanistic values as by any actual material advantage—and those perceived as left behind, or who self-identify as left behind. In the most recent US election, as in the Brexit referendum in the UK, the proportion of these two demographics is astonishingly close to 50-50. In America and many other societies, the anger of the ‘deporables’ is real, whether elites agree with it or choose to recognise it or attempt to address it, or not. The old left has become the new right. This problem is not going away easily.

What is needed, then, is a new vision, for societies at home and for the community of nations. The strategic significance of the Biden election is that it offers policy makers the opportunity, and the challenge, of exercising, or not, the leadership that will shape a better future for this century.

What Europe Wants


What Europe Wants

American reliability within the transatlantic alliance

by Nicholas Dungan

October 20201

There is a widespread perception outside the United States that the ‘idea that is America’ represents almost a state religion, that the US is ‘a country where traditionally it is adherence to creed … that qualifies you for membership’. To many non-US observers, what passes for patriotism in the US looks a lot like nefarious nationalism anywhere else. This was true before the arrival of the current president and has only been reinforced by ‘America First’.

The notion that the United States is ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’, that America is ‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’, that the US is a force for good in the world, that American exceptionalism is due to a quasi-biblical benediction of the country—‘We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.’—served to anchor this sense of creed. To question that creed was heresy, until recently.

Breaking the chains of political piety

During the 2016 presidential campaign, the taboo against Americans taking a critical view of their country began to crumble. ‘Make America Great Again’ suggested that America had lost its greatness, even the sources of its greatness. The word ‘corruption’, never before widespread in American political discourse, became common currency, notably in describing the extent to which elected officials were beholden to private interests in ways that, in most other advanced democracies, would point to prison terms.

Since 2016 Americans have increasingly recognised and debated their country’s poor rankings against other industrialised nations in healthcare, public education and infrastructure. Racism and racial injustice have been shown to be acute problems across US society. Divisiveness and bitter partisanship are acknowledged as gnawing national weaknesses. Hatred has poisoned politics.

Under the Trump administration none of these issues has been resolved, many have gone unaddressed and most have worsened.

The implications of this decline for the United States’ role in the world have become increasingly plain. Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a book entitled Foreign Policy Begins at Home. In January 2020, former Vice President Joseph Biden published an article, ‘Why America Must Lead Again’, much of which was devoted to an analysis of the reforms required inside the United States in order to re-establish credible American leadership outside.

The former US Secretary of Defence, Robert M. Gates, has called for an end to the ‘overmilitarization’ of American foreign policy. Ganesh Sitaraman has urged ‘A Grand Strategy of Resilience’, examining ‘American power in the age of fragility’ in which he identifies a host of necessary changes to the American system, albeit he does not go far enough on education or corruption, or how these needed changes might actually occur in practice, which would require an end to partisanship and divisiveness.

‘Stronger with allies’

At the same time as they focus on the United States, nearly all these experts place great emphasis on the need for US leadership to be ‘restored’ while the country stands alongside America’s allies. In January 2019 the Executive Vice-President of the Atlantic Council2 told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States should ‘put our alliances at the core, not the periphery, of our strategy’.

Many of those allies are in Europe, and NATO is the oldest and strongest of the US alliance structures. For many Americans NATO is the first ‘Europe’ they think of. Increasingly, the European Union has also become ‘Europe’ for Americans, especially as the Eurozone debt crisis and the Covid19 pandemic have highlighted the strengths (and incompleteness) of the EU. Lastly, Americans tend to think of ‘Europe’ as individual nation-states, almost all of which, however, belong to either NATO or the EU or both.

What Europe wants

It is clear that Europe—defined as any one of those three forms of Europe—would welcome a set of American policies different from those of the current administration. Angela Merkel’s Germany has rejected Trump and all he stands for outright; in France Emmanuel Macron initially attempted to tame Trump before giving up. Meanwhile the United Kingdom under Boris Johnson contends with a drawn out foreign policy identity crisis, caught as it is between the end of its membership of the European Union and the dwindling of the ‘special relationship’ with Washington. These and many other European leaders would welcome an America restored to its previous pivotal place in international affairs.

But let American foreign policy planners beware. They must not underestimate how far their country has fallen and must not overestimate how much its leadership would be welcome. As US citizens themselves have lamented the frailties and failings which they have, to their chagrin, discovered as the scales of state religion have fallen from their eyes, the world has been watching, too.

In 2005, fully fifteen years ago, Robert Zoellick urged China to become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in international affairs. For Europeans today, a United States committed to being such a responsible stakeholder would be a welcome change and a sufficient role, while the United States addresses, and repairs, its domestic ills.

1. This issue brief was first published on 22 October 2020 on the blog of International Affairs, a journal of The Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House. The writer is a member of the International Advisory Board of International Affairs.