In this and the next two blogs I will try to shed some light on the topic of how one should behave and what one should aim for to be a successful and superior leader. Here I will take it from a non-Western perspective – from China’s history that is quite rich and could be the source of potentially broader viewpoint in today’s (mostly western) leadership methodologies.
I begin with a story Outlaws of the Marsh. The main character Sòng Jiāng, the descendant of a landowner’s family, nicknamed Timely Rain, was a clerk of the county magistrate’s court in Yuncheng. He was especially adherent to playing with weapons and adept at many forms of fighting. At the same time he had a reputation for being extremely filial and generous in helping those in needs. He helped anyone who sought his aid, high or low, making things easy for people, solving their difficulties, settling differences, saving lives, even providing his guest with food and lodging in the family manor. And so he was famed through the provinceof Shandong and Hebei. However, in silence he suffered in the face of the arbitrariness and corruption of the imperial justice system.
The story begins with Sòng Jiāng’s marriage to Yan Poxi at the insistence of her mother after Sòng had paid the funeral expenses for her deceased father. Although his wife never loved him, the couple got along quite well at the beginning. Over the time, however, Yan Poxi comes to despise Sòng Jiāng as he has slowly distanced himself from her. Eventually, Sòng kills his adulterous wife who threatened to betray him for aiding the outlaws as a clerk. For this he is sentenced to face tattooing and exile in Jiangzhou. And there ironically, although Sòng Jiāng strove to be a loyal citizen all his life, step-by-step harsh reality forced him to the other extreme. He takes refuge on Mount Liangfor being accused of writing a rebellious poem. Several times he is sent to lead the heroes in the campaigns against the enemies of Liang Shan Marsh. Sòng Jiāng eventually becomes the new chief of the Liang Shan Marsh group of bandits. Although a leader of bandits, he holds on strongly to his faith in serving his nation with patriotism and maintains a strong sense of morals. He always puts loyalty and righteousness above all, acting in Heaven’s behalf and never wronging the emperor. Sòng Jiān’s dream eventually comes true after defeating the imperial forces in various battles and the emperor grants the outlaws amnesty. As a means of atonement for their past crimes, the emperor sends Sòng Jiāng and the outlaws on campaigns to attack the enemies of the nation, such as the rival Liao Dynasty. After winning a complete victory at the expense of most of his brothers’ lives, Sòng Jiāng dies by being poisoned by wicked, treacherous officials.
The novel shows that only Sòng Jiāng’s effective leadership led the gallant brotherhood of outlaws to unity and harmony. The moral of the story is that no matter the conditions, an outstanding leader will take advantage of the reality and let people do their jobs.