16 May, 2007

More on loyalty

Just a reiteration of my earlier post that loyalty is overrated. Not that I'm saying it isn't a virtue - it is - but it cannot replace competence. Guan Yu is often used to exemplify loyalty. Certainly he was loyal to Liu Bei. He and Zhang Fei stood by their brother through all of his struggles, from when Liu Bei was an unknown entity to when he was struggling to set up his own force surrounded by much more powerful warlords, to when his force was temporarily obliterated. Guan Yu's devotion to his brother is unquestioned but in the end, his lack of competence contributed to Liu Bei's death, a straining of an alliance that had the potential of curbing Wei and the overall weakening of Shu. Guan Yu's lack of diplomacy and refusal to see Wu as allies worthy of respect, especially given the already strained relationship between Wu and Shu over Jingzhou all contributed to Wu's attack on Shu and Guan Yu's execution. Had Guan Yu been more tactful, more smart, more..... competent as prefect over Shu's Jingzhou territories, he might have been able to keep the alliance with Wu intact. Instead he created a political mess because of his stubbornness and Shu suffered as a result. Loyalty cannot substitute for competence; although, ideally one wants to have both loyal and competent servants - it is better to put competence first and then focus on making the competent loyal, or at least give them incentives to act loyally. Betrayal may hurt and is something people actively try to avoid, but it is better to have the betrayal of one person than incompetent policies that lead to the revolt of the people or allies since the latter are nearly always more devastating to the state as a whole.