Sunday, July 17, 2005

Confusion of Ideas 101, Lesson 5: The self-sustaining fallacy.

About friggin time I got back on track, I know. I have been both having fun, and exploring . Life is good.

Part of my explorations fall into the category of “know your enemy”. I have been reading “The Making of a Christian Leader” by Ted W. Engstrom, (Executive Vice President, World Vision International), Zondervan Publishing House. Hmm. “World Vision”. Sounds positively megalomaniacal, doesn’t it? Do you suppose if all the other religions and lifestyles in the world sat back and actually let the Christians take over, they would stop trying to play the persecution card? ...But I digress.

In my reading of the aforementioned text, I ran across a little paragraph on the Laissez-faire style of management that illustrates the confusion of ideas resulting from a self-sustaining fallacy. The author has a poor understanding, and a negative opinion of, laissez-faire management. He has allowed those prejudices to completely color his description, and has drawn conclusions from his own, very debatable opinion.

Laissez-faire literally means, “to let do”. It has been adopted to mean a hands-off style, whether in terms of government regulation, or management. In order for this style of management to be effective, one must truly be operating in a group of peers, able to make their own decisions. You might find laissez-faire management in an advertising team, but I doubt you will ever see it at Wal-Mart. The term, “self-starter” comes to mind when discussing an effective team with a laissez-faire manager. Ok, let’s see what Engstrom has to say on the subject (My comments in parenthesis).

“This kind of a leader gives minimum direction and provides maximum freedom for group decisions.”

(So far, so good....)

“He recedes into the background, allowing others to express themselves”

(Ding ding ding! Fallacy! There is no “background” in an assemblage of peers! Not being dictatorial does not equate to being a shrinking violet.)

“He establishes rapport, and remains silent until his specific direction or opinion is called for.”

(Close, but no cigar. A good laissez-faire manager is an equal contributor to the team, and does have the final decision-making authority. The laissez-faire manager should exercise this authority, even if it is only a final reiteration of the group consensus for the sake of establishing clear goals. Engstrom’s observation here is vectoring off track, along the line established by his earlier misrepresentation.)

“His role is similar to the nondirective approach in psychological therapy.”

(HUH? Where did that come from, what is it, and how many of Engstrom’s readers are going to accept that statement without the least clue as to what it means? Way to pontificate! That sentence needed a comma, and proof of analogy. In addition, Engstrom has associated the image of “group therapy” with this management style in the minds of his less sophisticated readers.)

“This view operates on the assumption that man himself and society contain remedial forces to allow a strong, healthy relationship between the leader and the group.”

(The reader is being set up here. Operant words, “assumption”, and “remedial forces”. “Assumption.” Everybody “knows” what happens when you assume. Shouldn’t that read, “premise”? “Remedial forces” implies that something requires remediation. This is usually the result of something going wrong. One should also note the “man himself and society” portion of that alleged “assumption”. What, no God? Oh. Yes. Laissez-faire is antithetical to a dictatorial hierarchy.)

“This permits growth through group decision”

(Yes, but remember that “assumption” statement? I bet this is not allowed to stand unchallenged. Any takers?)

“Actually, we could say that this style is practically no leadership at all and allows everything to run its own course”

(We could if we were a theory X manager, with a negative opinion of laissez-faire. Actually, this is a description of management failure, or non-management that is often mislabeled as laissez-faire to support the opinion that laissez-faire doesn’t work. Engstrom is maintaining his course, leading his readers to a prejudiced conclusion.)

“The leader simply performs a maintenance function.”

(Sounds about as effective as a janitor put in charge, doesn’t it? This is close to reality, the prejudice word here is, “simply”. The reality is, there is a lot of team building, encouragement, recognition, respect, and judicious guidance involved in true laissez-faire management. It might be mostly maintenance (and reporting) after the initial team building, but there is nothing simple about it.)

“For example, a pastor may act as a figurehead and concern himself only with his pulpit ministry while others are left to work out the details of how the church is to function.”

(Negative connotation lightning round: “figurehead”, “concern himself only”, “left to”.)

“This style lends itself to those leaders who are away a lot or who have been temporarily put in charge”

(And why is that? The absentee leadership is obvious, but the temp? Wow! Let’s look at that in light of what we have deduced about the author’s opinion. Well, if you are only a temporary leader, the church wouldn’t want you to create any situation where the permanent replacement might be perceived as less capable. That might cause rivalry, factioning, and prevent a smooth transition of power. Besides, if the permanent replacement is inept, and you make him look inept, you call the judgment of the higher authorities of the church into question, and that’s bad for the whole scam. Yup, the temporary leader should not make too big a splash, and then simply retire back into the follower role.)

Guys like Engstrom are masters of programming. Once the initial impulse toward independent thought has been eliminated, the receptive mind must receive input! Instructions are geared toward creating the desired result, and contradictory information becomes extraneous. This is the formula that is used to justify stating opinion as fact, then building a house of cards upon that foundation in a self-sustaining fallacy.