Absent from the game

The manager is never there, but the work gets done. Nothing and no-one—including the most inconsequential of beings and things—falls through the cracks. Everything is handled with effectiveness and efficiency. Yet, neither myself nor any other team member actually see the manager for more than an hour or two a day. And when we do, she isn’t slaving away, she’s joking around, drinking a cup of coffee whilst perusing some emails, or chatting on the phone amicably. She’s never there, and when she is she doesn’t look as if she’s working, but our department is always on point and ahead of schedule. As such, we regard her with a sense of awe and mystery.

This is an example of Robert Greene’s sixteenth law of power, “Use absence to increase respect and honour.”

“Too much circulation makes the price go down: The more you are seen and heard from, the more common you appear. If you are already established in a group, temporary withdrawal from it will make you more talked about, even more admired. You must learn when to leave. Create value through scarcity.”

In the example above, ghostly competence pairs with rare presence to create an aura of respect and admiration for the manager amongst the manager’s team. But it is tied explicitly to the physical plane. This is, I believe, the sense that Greene envisioned his law as applying to. Physical absence can be used to increase respect and honour. But there’s another element to this law.

In a recent article, Ryan Holiday put together a list of his favourite books from 2017. He names The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader as one of those books and comments:

“The perception of Eisenhower was that he was a sweet old guy who didn’t keep up on the day-to-day goings of politics but this was all a brilliant act. He wanted to be seen as above politics, when in reality, he knew exactly how to make hard decisions and steer the country in the direction it needed to go. For instance, people think Eisenhower didn’t do enough to take down Joseph McCarthy. Eisenhower is the one who took McCarthy down—he just didn’t think the president should be seen doing such a thing (His rule was: Never engage in personalities).”

Eisenhower’s deliberate, calculated positioning is another application of Greene’s law. He absented himself from the game of politics and thus won respect and honour from both his allies and enemies. 

Hitler did the same thing in his domination of Germany during the run-up to the Second World War. He sought to position himself as the saviour of Germany, the one who was going to lead the German people back to glory and abundance. To do so, he told the people, he could not waste his time and energy on the petty infatuations of mortals, on things like wealth and romantic interests. He was foregoing all of that in order to dedicate himself to his historic, God-given mission. Hitler, like Eisenhower, and like many other people seeking to do the unprecedented, manufactured the perception that they were above simple human concerns. 

This is the implicit application of Greene’s law. It is possible to absent ourselves, not only on the physical plane, but on the plane of desire and ambition, gaining respect and honour in the process. It is possible to elevate our status by absenting ourselves from the games that the average person plays.