Education and leadership

Leading like you mean it requires thinking for yourself; but freedom of thought is only possible through a proper education.

Education, i.e. personal growth, and leadership are inextricably entwined.  Like leadership, education is a daily undertaking that must continue throughout life.

Like leadership, education is essentially about bearing fruits – virtuous character in the individual and humane culture in the community.

Education is the process through which we come to know ourselves and the world, moving from simple awareness to ever-increasing understanding, an ability to explain things and make sound judgments on subjects as diverse as the meaning of life and the cost of living.

Education, of which schooling is just a part, begins at birth and ends at death.

Although it necessarily involves a teacher-learner relationship, we encounter many different teachers through life: apart from schoolteachers, we learn from parents, friends, society, and Nature.

This is why long before formal schooling begins, the inevitable inequalities of home life — varying degrees of love and socialisation, knowledge-building and character formation — set children on very different paths to the future.

Fortunately, an inspired teacher can help one overcome even the worst start.  No human soul is beyond redemption except by choice — education is driven by the learner; the teacher can only inspire and guide.

Your intellectual horizon must keep expanding; in the end, it is the measure of the education you build for yourself.  If at any stage it ceases to grow, you become locked into a closed perspective that impedes independent thought.

The history of education shows how far we have fallen from the classical tradition of developing the whole person, intellect, character, and skill, in preparation for life.

There are many complex reasons for this – philosophical, technological, economic, and socio-political – but a marked change came with the advent of state schooling.

Economies based on science and technology demand increasing specialisation and vocational training, a narrowing of focus inconsistent with developing the full potential of individuals.

Efficiency and productive routine require non-thinking functionaries rather than thinking people, and business and governments invariably favour control over freedom.

Increasing competition for resources and economic advantage has intensified this, and state control of education has become a cornerstone of policy.

Opposed to this narrow focus on skills training, education develops broad-based knowledge, character, and practical wisdom in dealing with others, and prepares young people to go on learning throughout life.

Revealing the pitfalls and possibilities of the human condition by means of history and classic literature develops empathy, imagination, and an understanding of the cultural continuum of past, present, and future of which they are part.

It makes them more open to change and more capable of adapting because they have been encouraged to think for themselves.

Many famous people, like Shakespeare, Franklin, Lincoln, Catherine Cookson, and Einstein achieved greatness by driving their own education, the solid basis of which was reading.

Thousands of working class people in nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain lifted themselves out of poverty to become successful businesspeople, professionals, writers, and politicians by doing the same thing.

Leaders need to be autodidacts – people who teach themselves – constantly expanding their knowledge, and reflecting on their worldview, attitudes, and character.  That helps them to help others to be the best they can be.

So what should you do to improve your mind and your ability to bring out the best in other people?  Here is a programme for autodidacts called STRETCH, which stands for Search, Think, Read, Experience, Try, Converse, and Help:

Search — curiosity is the spark that ignites education, searching for the truth about life and the world, and your part in it.  Asking questions is fundamental to learning.

Think — education is more than knowledge; it is about applying knowledge and plumbing the depths of understanding, which requires serious thought.  Find time for quiet reflection every day.

Read — history and classic literature above all.  Reading is essential.  Suffice to say that without it you are starving your mind and making yourself more vulnerable to manipulation by misleaders.

Experience our rich legacy in art, music, film, architecture, science and technology.  Let these works broaden your intellectual horizon daily.

Try painting a picture, performing in a play, writing poetry, mastering the violin, making pottery, riding a horse, climbing a mountain, or creating a garden.  Go beyond the safe confines of your life as it is.

Converse — not easy when most people just report events and talk about their own lives.  Find friends you can engage in real conversation, on diverse topics, with all committed to listening and understanding.

Help others — involving yourself in the needs of others is a well-trodden path to wisdom.  The needs in every community are numerous and there are many ways in which you can make a difference.

STRETCH will help you drive your education and personal growth.  But it has to become a way of life.

Education, glib and undefined, is constantly held up as the panacea for all our socio-economic ills.

But if education is not about finding the truth about our lives in this world, then it is a meaningless concept, and politicians should stop promising to cure all society’s problems by throwing more money at state schooling.

The lesson is clear: we are not developing leaders because we are not cultivating the fulfilment of all human beings; in other words, because we are not truly educating people.

The above is a précis of Chapter Six of Leaders and Misleaders by Andre van Heerden. In the next article, Andre will consider ‘Understanding human nature’