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On Leadership : Stretching or Straining?
When people have a hard task to do - one which stretches them - they become less concerned with trivial matters. If you have not registered this yet, observe it in yourself and in others, and you will see that it is true. When there is an emergency, for example, something which takes up a great deal of attention, triviality is reduced. In order to enable people to be less trivial, and to tackle things which really help them develop, they should undertake tasks which provide the right kind and degree of stretching.
People who have achieved great things, genuinely effective accomplishments, will be found to have done so through this method: stretching. When it goes wrong, people apply stress, not stretching. Stress is damaging and does not produce constructive results. Mistaking stretching for straining: labour for exercise, is what causes a great deal of trouble. 

When triviality disappears, even temporarily, people are able to work at a higher level. This is true of all kinds of human endeavour: it is to be seen in attainment of all kinds and also even in the social milieu: people who are less trivial are more respected. Holding a high or important position is one of the main sources of triviality. This is something which most people do not understand, merely because they have not analysed it. 

Now when a person has power and does not undertake its responsibilities himself, instead expecting others to obey his orders, he always becomes trivial. There is nobody more trivial than a person in authority who spends his time telling others what to do and who does not do things himself. This is because, although in appearance this man or woman is powerful or 'above this and that', he is really below it and is not taking any real part in the exercise of a function. 

Merely to give orders is not a constructive function. But, since it is imagined that the person who gives orders is in some way more important, people do not register the evident fact that such people fall into two types: those who are really stretching themselves and those who are simply 'little caesars'.
The corrective - and it is an instant one - for becoming trivial, ineffective and disliked through exercising meddlesome authority is for the individual himself to undertake some part of executive action. He should also alternate, sometimes doing some of the work instead of organising it and expecting others always to do it. The common development of trivial people at the top - when it is frequently said, 'The great are small-minded' - is due to this system being in operation without its corrective. Man has erred in imagining that responsibility and lack of triviality go together. It can be the reverse, and unless the tendency is analytically watched, it generally will be the reverse. Because of this, it should occasion no surprise when people of 'importance' are petty. In any culture in which recognition of the foregoing laws is not embodied in the human training and executive system, we are bound to find triviality in the higher echelons. 

In past cultures, attempts have been made to redress this tendency by building into human training a dislike for pettiness. This has not been sufficiently successful, partly because the pettiness tends not to be recognised by the person who indulges in it. The disease has to be tackled at its roots: at the point where the individual has to stretch himself. Although it is not particularly difficult for a person to imagine that he is stretching himself when he is doing nothing or else straining himself, it is not impossible to succeed with this exercise. In all societies, instruments and institutions, traditions and so on exist to establish and maintain the norms of that society. 

In a culture which lacks these safeguards, it is generally necessary for an individual or a body of people who are themselves stretched or no longer in need of such exercise, to preside over the 'prescription' of such an exercise in others. In some traditional cultures, such an individual is known as a 'teacher' or 'guide'. If this individual is himself unworthy, which tends to occur in all cultures, he will induce strain instead of exercise. But it is not difficult to identify such people.

From Knowing How To Know (p.80) by Idries Shah, Octagon Press London (1998) ISBN 0 863040 72 1