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Three Cups of Tea

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Joseph Nye in The Powers to Lead defines what he believes to be a leader and the skills necessary to be a leader. Greg Mortenson, the focus of Three Cups of Tea, fulfills Nye’s definition of a leader. After failing to summit K2, Mortenson stumbled upon a small Pakistani village and began a journey that would not only change his life, but the lives of thousand of children in Pakistan. While building schools in Pakistan, Mortenson has helped transform the mindset of an entire nation about the value of education. Nye says that two-thirds of Americans believe they are in “leadership crisis” (Nye pre). After the collapse of the sub-prime housing market and recent economic struggles, who can blame them? Those who are looking for a leader, however, need look no further than Greg Mortenson. Joseph Nye defines a leader as one who “helps create and achieve shared goals” (Nye 18). A leader must act in a triangular system that involves the leader, his followers, and the context in which the situation exists (Nye 21). Mortenson works effectively as a member of the leadership triangle. He acts as the leader and his followers are the towns, villages, and refugee camps that receive the benefits of his schools, water systems, and community centers as well as his assistants and the members of the Central Asia Institute. The context in which Mortenson exercises his leadership is as equally important as the other two parts of the triangle. As Nye quotes Karl Marx as saying, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please…but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past” (Nye 5). Mortenson takes the unique context and uses it to become a leader. At the time of Mortensen’s trip to Korphe, the educational system in Pakistan was deficient at best. Many towns and villages lacked public schools and receive little to no funding from the government. Mortenson took this opportunity to begin building schools in Pakistan to promote education, and more specifically girl’s education. Mortenson works in the leadership triangle of leaders, followers, and context and creates the shared goal of building schools to underdeveloped regions of Pakistan. In order to lead, leaders require power. According to Nye, there are several types of power skill sets that leaders use to their advantage to lead, each with their own purpose and place. These are hard power, soft power, and smart power. The soft power skill set includes emotional IQ, communication skills, and vision. Hard power involves organizational capacity and Machiavellian political skills. Smart power uses contextual IQ (Nye 83). Mortenson posses these skills in one form or another and uses them to be an effective leader. Nye defines emotional intelligence as “the self mastery, discipline, and empathetic capacity that allows leaders to channel their personal passions and attractions to others” (Nye 69). It involves being able to understand yourself and your relationship with others. One of Mortenson’s strong suits is his ability to manage relationship by making deep and authentic connections with people. Mortenson makes it a mission to keep every promise he makes. Originally, the first promise he keeps is the one to Korphe that endears himself to the Pakistani people. Despite several setbacks in America like a lack of funding, relationship troubles, and financial problems, Mortenson is able to return to Korphe to build the first school. As Haji Ali, the Korphe village cheif said, “By the most merciful blessings of Allah you have come back to Korphe. I believed you would and said so often as the wind blows through the Braldu Valley” (Mortenson 97). Mortenson never lets the people in his life down. He completes the Korphe school with Jean Hoerni’s money as he promised Hoerni he would. He finances the education of Jahan, Haji Ali’s granddaughter, all the way through medical school as he promised. He even returns to Afghanistan to build a school for the Kirghiz nomads. Mortenson’s ability to complete all of his promises creates a deep connection with his followers. Where Mortenson does lack in this skill is self-awareness. Mortenson can sometimes be detrimental to himself. He allows his own personal health to decay and becomes out of shape and suffers from a lack of sleep. Tom Vaughn, a friend and CIA board member said, “I began to worry about the terrible way he took care of himself. He stopped exercising. He stopped sleeping,” (Mortenson 230). Mortensen also takes it upon himself to travel to Waziristan, a place where he has no contacts. This endangers the safety of Mortenson and he is captured and held prisoner. Although Mortenson learns from, this mistake, it points out the blemishes in his emotional IQ. While he does lack in certain areas of emotional IQ, there is no denying the strong connections he makes with people. Mortenson also uses strong communication skills. According to Nye, leaders need to use “persuasive words, symbols, and examples” as well as be able to be “persuasive to near and distant followers” (Nye 83). Mortenson’s best example of using symbols and examples to be persuasive is his open-mindedness of the Muslim culture. Mortenson learns to pray as a Muslim would and begins to dress as a Muslim would by wearing a shalwar. He engages in cultural rituals like drinking three cups of tea before discussing and bargaining. Mortenson’s appreciation and willingness to accept and partake in the Muslim culture has proven to be his greatest asset in his work in Pakistan. The Pakistani begin to regard him as one of their own. Mortenson also possess the ability to be “persuasive to near and distant followers”. While his oratory skills are not great, he communicates well with his followers. Even when in America, Mortenson is able to keep close contact with his Pakistani followers. His weakness in communication is his speaking ability and his inability to keep contact with CAI members in America while he is in Pakistan, but his strengths of using symbols and examples to be persuasive are two of his greatest strengths. The third soft power skill that Mortenson uses is vision. A leader needs a vision that is “attractive to followers” and “effective (balance ideals and capabilities)” (Nye 83). Originally, Mortenson’s view is narrow-minded. His goal is to complete the Korphe School and continue on with his life. As he begins to work though, his vision grows. It eventually grows into the Central Asia Institute. As his vision grows, he also begins to attract more followers. He begins getting donations from more people, he is able to attract a close group of followers or his “Dirty Dozen”, and more and more people begin to follow his vision of building schools in Pakistan to promote girl’s education. The best example of Mortenson’s vision’s ability to attract followers is when the Supreme Council of Pakistan instructs all of the clerics of Pakistan not to interfere with Mortenson’s work and strikes down the fatwa. Mortenson’s vision is able to convince the Supreme Council side with an infidel over a Pakistani Shia. Mortenson’s vision is also effective and balances ideals and capabilities. The CAI has grown into a very fluidly functioning organization thanks to the vision of Greg Mortenson. In addition to soft power skills, Mortenson has the hard power skills of organizational capacity and Machiavellian political skills. Hard power is not Mortenson’s strong suit, but he does possess enough hard power skills to be effective. Nye states that organizational capacity is being able to “manage reward and information systems” and “manage inner and outer circles” (Nye 83). Mortenson’s organization is lacking in places to say the least. He manages his time poorly and is often hard to keep track of. “The board had a decision about trying to make Greg account for his time, but we realized that would never work. Greg just does what he wants,” said Tom Vaughn (Mortenson 229). This can be detrimental to his leadership at times. He does, however, manage his contacts well in Pakistan and is always aware of what is going on in some of the most remote areas of the world. He keeps his inner-circle close and is able to maintain the dozens of school the CAI has in place. Mortenson also uses Machiavellian political skills. Nye says that these are the “ability to bully, buy and bargain” and the “ability to build and maintain winning coalitions” (Nye 83). Mortenson has shown that when it is called upon, he can use these political skills. One example of his ability to bully is the situation at the Halde School. Yakub, a porter, wanted to be paid more, so he locked up the school and wouldn’t let children in. Mortenson told him, “If I don’t see the school is open and the students are going to class, we’re going to make an announcement at the village mosque for everyone to gather here and watch you blow it up” (Mortenson 306). Yakub predictably opened up the school. Mortenson was also able to bargain for supplies at good prices. Mortenson was able to build a “winning coalition” by forming his “Dirty Dozen”. Mortenson found in these men a group who would do anything for him. He was able to keep this coalition together despite their differences and this group proved to be invaluable to his leadership. The last leadership skill that Mortenson possessed was the soft power skill of contextual IQ. Contextual IQ is the ability to “understand evolving environment”, “capitalize on trends”, and adjust style to context and follower’s needs” (Nye 83). At first, Mortenson’s contextual IQ struggled. He pushed the Korphe workers too hard and tried to have them work at a quicker, Western pace. Mortenson learned a valuable lesson from Haji Ali that proved to enhance his contextual IQ. He took Mortenson’s tools and made him slow down. “If you want to thrive in Baltistan, you must respect our ways,” Ali told Mortenson (Mortenson 150). Mortenson learned that he must work in the context of Pakistan and not his standard American ways. He understood the environment in which he was working better and was able to function as a better leader. Greg Mortenson fulfills Nye’s definition of a leader. He created a shared group of goals for the people of Pakistan while operating inside of the leadership triangle. He also used the soft power skills of emotional IQ, communication skills, and vision, the hard power skills of organizational capacity and political skills, and the smart power skill of contextual IQ. Mortenson was not without his flaws, but his strengths have helped him accomplish the incredible goals he’s set. Greg Mortenson is truly a leader.

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