While I would dearly love to post the last of the Twelve Dancing Princesses POVs, I have had a request with time constraints. Here in the Low Country, we have an election tomorrow. There is absolutely NO plan to turn this blog the least bit political, but I happen to know how to use a particular fairy tale when thinking about tomorrow's Boston Tea Party. (Really, shouldn't we all disguise ourselves if we're going to throw out long-nosed liars and loud-mouthed donkeys?)
But first, a sad truth. The Peter Principle is a semi-humorous argument about management and leadership that claims everyone rises to his own level of incompetence. There is a little fact behind this, because if you keep doing good until you hit upon a task you cannot accomplish, you will tap yourself out. That doesn't make people incapable of learning or “doing a thing you think you cannot,” but it does indicate that people who promote others heedlessly are thinking in limited dimensions.
How, then, would one promote someone with purpose and good faith?
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Pwyll. He is a Welsh lord from the Druidic Mabinogian, which was required memorization back in the day. (But only if you wanted to be a lawyer, counselor, civil servant, or religious leader.) This is a long story (a version of which can be found here), and below I break down the first chapter of his life as it specifically applies to leadership qualifications. I don't usually, but this story requires some critical thinking and foreknowledge to get to the meat of what we need.
Oh, and if—like me—you pronounce everything in your head, “Poo-ihl” is a close approximation of proper Welsh pronunciation. (I'm told a full set of teeth is an impairment to getting it right.)
- InitiativePwyll is busy getting things done. It's how he first attracts the attention of the Otherworld. He does something wrong, to be sure, but he does not hesitate to take action.
- Humility in privatePwyll is confronted with the wrong he has done, and he takes his lumps with a distinct lack of arrogance. Catching the notice of the Otherworld is one thing. Impressing the Otherworld is quite another, and Pwyll's immediate apology and offer of atonement is worthy of further attention.
- Healthy response to authorityWhen Arawn (yup—“Ara-oon”) introduces himself and suggests an impossible task, Pwyll doesn't argue. He doesn't counteroffer or ask suspicious questions. Pwyll is an authority figure to his own people—a position he had earned—and he respects Arawn's authority in kind.
- Temporary promotionArawn gives Pwyll his job, his responsibilities, his life for a year and a day. With only one task to perform. Pwyll does three noteworthy things with his time:
- Maintains a good systemAnnwn (pronounced “An-noon”) is a well-ordered kingdom with an established system of justice and bureaucracy. Pwyll does not change this system. He makes considerable effort to keep that system in good repair.
- ABCD Integrity*This isn't in every version of the story, but it is consistent with character qualities Pwyll exhibits in the other chapters. Pwyll has the opportunity to avail himself of privileges and perks only available to this higher position. And he keeps his sticky fingers to himself.
- Completes his taskPwyll was given very specific instructions about his battle with Hafgan. He does not deviate from these instructions. He doesn't try to be clever in Arawn's absence.
- Leaves the office better than he found itPwyll has a year to think about that battle with Hafgan. How a great king like Arawn might have failed before, how these instructions are meant for good and not for evil. When Pwyll faces Arawn's old adversary, he plays it smart.** He not only takes nothing for himself, he serves the greater good of the office he has temporarily manned.
- Returns homePwyll is prompt about returning home. He does not extend his stay in the Otherworld. But once he arrives safely back in Dyfed, he keeps the lessons he learned in Annwn—not to mention the confidence of a powerful new ally.
Sometimes, politicians don't meet these requirements. On rare occasions, they will. Expecting this list to be met is a hard line to draw in the sand. Worth the trouble, I should think, but we live in a world where people promote themselves as leaders, rather than the community/country pushing a trusted individual forwards.
For the writers who need a challenge, what do you build into your imaginary leaders? Are your kings and queens granted authority because you need a warm body on the throne, or because they have demonstrated a set of skills that make them worthy of the crown? If you wouldn't use this criteria to find a leader, what qualifications do you seek?
*ABCD stands for Above and Beyond the Call of Duty. Pwyll chooses to keep his back to Arawn's queen during his stay. When the Otherworld king returns home, he is surprised and humbled by the care Pwyll took to be trustworthy. Arawn didn't ask Pwyll of this level of honor.
**There is a big difference between being smart and being clever. Clever requires an audience to see how it has outwitted someone. A lot of arrogance at work, there. Smart has its roots in making the best choice. Though not a rule, it can be exempt from all thoughts of self.