The Mathematics of Leadership

by Nick on December 19, 2014

Warren Buffett famously said that he and Charlie Munger developed their fabulously successful company, Berkshire, around a leadership culture of love. This is refreshingly different from the culture of fear that pervades so much conventional leadership thinking in organisations and politics. Love opens up the possibility to see how, ultimately, everything connects to everything else; fear closes down that possibility and sees only scarcity and threat. What might happen if leaders let go of their need to feel in control (a delusion at the best of times), their need to make all the key decisions, and asked instead how they might better serve themselves and others as a resource and inspiration? How could they be more ‘of service’ to others? How could they be more creative in holding a space for their people to solve knotty problems for themselves? They might get back more than they expect … 

When the traveller arrived at the oasis he was hot and thirsty. He’d been travelling since dawn and now the sun was high in the sky. He slipped off his camel and knocked at the door of the first hut. A young man opened it. “I pray you in the name of Allah the Merciful, give me water.” Without a word the young man went inside returning soon after with a pitcher of clean clear cool water. The traveller took the pitcher and drained its contents  but not before sprinkling a few drops on the sand to acknowledge the ancestors. “I thank you for this gift of life and for your generosity. What can I do for you in return?”

“We have a problem in our house. One that has sowed discord since our father died two weeks ago. You see, in his will he left his herd of camels to me and my two older brothers. And strict instructions about how we should share the camels between us. To eldest brother one half. To second brother one third. To me one ninth. The problem is there are seventeen camels. We don’t know what to do. We don’t want to kill our camels and we don’t want to slight the last wishes of our father.”

“You’ve given me your precious water, the great gift of life; let me give you something equally precious in return. Take my camel and now divide your herd.” The young man went to work on his mental arithmetic .. ” Eighteen camels; one half that’s nine; one third that’s six; fifteen so far. One ninth that’s two ….. But that’s only seventeen camels!”

“Correct. And as it so happens, the camel remaining is the one I gave you. And now that you won’t be needing it anymore, I’m sure  you’ll be willing to let me have it back so I can continue my journey. Be well! And may you and your brothers thrive.”


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