Ever to the point, Saint-Exupery saw sharply to the heart of things. This comment resonates with me after having observed (and been subjected to) varying forms of management. My conclusion was that among the most common weaknesses of people in positions of leadership, preventing their fully qualifying as ‘leaders’, is a lack of self-mastery.
Initially, I saw this as a question of self-restraint, but later concluded that self-restraint is only a step on the way to self-mastery. Self-restraint might involve discipline and control of negative impulses (such as ego-centricity), whereas self-mastery, as I see it, means that the impulses themselves are positive and aligned with the greater good.
Saint-Exupery’s comment can initially seem an oxymoron, but the transition to self-mastery does indeed bring a certain freedom – instead of wrestling with oneself, one can face outwards and wrestle with bigger and more important issues.
The real task is to succeed in setting man free by making him master of himself.
Source: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Flight to Arras, trans. by Lewis Galantière (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), p. 153
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