Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Where have all the leaders gone?

March 28, 2016

Democracy and leadership are incompatible. The “democratic process” does not give value to leadership, only to popularity. 

By definition a “full” democracy would have all the electorate determining every little decision by a majority vote. Such a “full” democracy can never work. That would be closer to anarchy than anything else. In practice, therefore, most “democratic” states use the democratic process sparingly and primarily at the time of elections. The elections are meant to choose leaders who will then lead during their term in office. In between elections, decisions are generally to be taken by the anointed leaders in a limited but semi-autocratic fashion. Presidents and Prime Ministers become temporary, limited dictators or kings. But the more “democracy” that is applied, whether through parliamentary limitations or by passing the buck in a referendum, the more heads of government follow the wishes of the majority rather than lead. Street demonstrations, opinion polls, popularity polls, on-line polls, parliamentary votes and referenda are all supposed to be, and taken to be, expressions of the democratic will of the people. Increasingly heads of government are forced to “follow” the wishes of the masses rather than even trying to “lead”. The “democratic process” does not give value to leadership, only to popularity. 

Political wolves who once led the human flock have been turned into sheep.

I suspect this is because democracy and leadership are fundamentally incompatible. The greater the level of democracy that is applied, the more a titular leader is required to follow rather than to lead. Corporations know this very well. Shareholders apply democracy only at shareholder meetings. And here they choose their leaders who become dictators for a time. Operations are autocratic and are only democratic as an “act of benevolence”. When the shareholders are not satisfied, they change the dictator but they rarely interfere with the exercise of his authority.

Looking at the titular leaders of the democratic countries today, there is not a leader of any stature anywhere in sight. I take a political leader to be someone with a vision of where he wants to take his country and his people, and who creates the path for doing so. Countries with proportional representation are – inherently – no longer capable of producing a leader of that school. They throw up administrators and conciliators who can compromise between different factions but whose time horizon is only up to the next election. They are congenitally incapable of leading, of creating a path to a new condition that they can envision and communicate. Most European countries now fall into this category. Countries with two party systems can, in theory, produce a political leader who can be a king for his term. In practice they too are constrained by their parliaments and “popularity ratings”.

Among the current bunch the closest to being a leader is Angela Merkel. There is not another “leader” in all of Europe. The democratic limitations have been further compounded by the extra layers of bureaucracy in Brussels, the European Parliament and the European Courts. The EU is not a place to look for leaders any more. Barack Obama could have been a leader but he has been too risk-averse (a euphemism for scared) to lead. Hillary Clinton is an administrator who would not recognise a vision if it was handed to her. Donald Trump is a maverick and there is just a faint chance that he could turn into a leader, though it is highly unlikely. Trudeau in Canada has just won a popularity contest and will not challenge the conventional wisdom of the masses. China has a head of political party who seems to be losing control of even his own party. Narendra Modi in India is too busy with collecting frequent flyer points and PR to have time to lead. I don’t count Putin who is a straight dictator without too much pretense of being democratic. (But he is allowed to, and he does lead.)

Democracy is fundamentally incompatible with leadership. A “full” democracy needs no leaders to make any decisions – only followers to do as they are told to by the majority. My thesis is that there is a balance to be found between democratic principles and operational authoritarianism.  You can well apply democratic principles when choosing heads of government. But democracy has to be suspended when providing authority to such heads of government; at least during their time in office and perhaps with some other safeguards. But these chosen heads have to be given the room to become, or grow to become, leaders – if they can.  Right now the authority of the chosen heads is so curtailed that they have little chance to be leaders.

I suspect we do need leaders. But they will not appear until the balance is redressed and we recreate the space within which political leaders can exist and operate.


 

 

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Wanted! A leader in the White House

June 8, 2015

After 7 years as President, Barack Obama’s Iraq strategy is still ” not complete”. His Syria and Ukraine “strategies” are only conspicuous by their absence.

Once upon a time and a fairy tale or three ago, I had very high expectations of President Obama. He had set the expectations himself with his rhetoric. There was nothing he couldn’t. But all that he will have accomplished by the end of his two terms is to have been the first “black” President of the United States – and he can’t even take credit for that.

I have a theory that world development proceeds in steps and that these discrete steps are dependent upon the number of “leaders” available at any time in the world to work together. With “leaders” I mean those who take people along with them towards some vision of the world and are not mere “followers”. For the last 150 years the “leader” of the US has been, is, and must be a necessary – but insufficient – ingredient. The world stagnates or even moves backwards in the time when the political leaders are “followers”. A critical mass of “leadership” is not possible when the President of the US is a follower. It would seem that for the last 7 years we have had a “follower” in the White House whose actions are subordinated to his fears. It is paralysis by analysis which reigns. The closest to a leader in Europe has been Angela Merkel but even she has  not communicated any vision of Europe – let alone the world – to chase.

The clarity of a vision is important for leadership. A “consensus” vision is diffuse and muddled – almost by definition. My hypothesis is that real “leadership”, if existing simultaneously in 5 key countries/regions of the world, can provide the necessary and sufficient conditions to create new wonders. If the “leaders” of the US, Russia, Europe (whichever of France, Germany or the UK qualifies) together with China and India actually shared a vision of what could be done and “led” their people along that path, there would be a paradigm shift and a step-change to a level not ever seen before.

BBCThe US does not yet have a “complete strategy” for helping Iraq regain territory from Islamic State (IS), President Barack Obama has said.

Business Insider: “When a finalized plan is presented to me by the Pentagon, then I will share it with the American people,” Obama said. “We don’t yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis as well.” ………. Obama said in September that the goal was to “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL,” but that goal still seems far off.

ISIS Islamic State Iraq Syria control

Graphic Business Insider / Reuters

The development of proportional representation in democracies is a natural inhibitor of “leaders” and “leadership”. The focus on consensus politics means that, very often, it is the “lowest common”  standards and goals that apply. This turns even very good leaders into mediocre followers. The coming together of a critical mass of “political leadership” in the world cannot be predicted. But it will surely happen some time.

It might even happen in my lifetime, but looking at the field of Presidential candidates in the US, the next President of the US is likely to be another follower, and it will not happen anytime soon.

A “dark gray” Monday for emerging market currencies

December 16, 2014

There is a gloom pervading global markets.  The gloom of the oil producers is not being offset by an optimism among the oil consumers. The Russians are feeling the effects of the sanctions. Chinese and Indian industrial growth – by their standards – are stagnant. Europe is stuck with its high energy price models and is not prepared – yet – to understand that price reductions by cost reductions (in real terms) is a good thing. The political leadership of the G8 or even the G20 are not – individually or jointly – communicating any convincing vision of a global economy and its recovery. The Middle East is in chaos and nobody has any clear notion of how order can be restored.

It was a dark grey – if not a completely black – Monday for emerging market currencies yesterday. The Indian Rupee slumped to a 13 month low. The Indonesian Rupiah hit a 16 year low. The Russian Ruble, Turkish Lira, Brazilian Real and South African Rand all hit new lows. There was no obvious single trigger but largely driven by sentiment and general gloom. The emerging markets are overly concerned about potential rate hikes in the US next year. But the real conflict lies in the mismatch between Japan and Europe planning rate cuts while the US plans rate hikes. A soaring Dollar is all very well and is fine for a while but it reduces the possibility of everybody else buying goods priced in Dollars.

One wonders why the G8 or the G20 counties bother with their summit meetings. Either the meetings are a particularly ineffective forum or the people attending are largely incompetent. I tend to think that without one or more showing real leadership, the G8 and G20 are just talking-shops and “whatever will be, will be”.

To get a turn-around and move upwards during a period of decline, it is necessary first to hit bottom. It seems to me that the bottom is near – unless we are again approaching a chasm where the bottom is not even visible.

Wall Street Journal:

Analysts say there was no specific catalyst for the selloff, but a number of factors converged to put downward pressure on emerging markets. Global oil prices continued to tumble, exacerbating problems for oil-exporting countries like Russia and Colombia. The Federal Reserve is also scheduled to issue a statement on Wednesday, which could signal that the central bank is closer to raising interest rates. That would deliver a blow to emerging markets that have benefited from years of easy money from the Fed. 

As investors scrambled to dump their risky assets, the selloff in emerging markets spread beyond oil exporters into countries like India and Indonesia, which had been relatively resilient in recent weeks.

“There’s just a lot going on in emerging markets, and investors are having some difficulty absorbing that information and figuring out what will happen next,” said Lucas Turton, chief investment officer of Windham Capital Management LLC in Boston, which manages $1.8 billion and cut back on its exposure to emerging-market stocks two months ago.

In afternoon trading in New York, the dollar was up 3.1% against the lira, with the Turkish currency trading at 2.3706 to the greenback. The real was off more than 1% at 2.6884 to the dollar, while the ruble plunged by more than 10% to trade recently at 65.615 to the dollar. ……

….. The Fed is expected to raise interest rates next year as the economy improves, while central banks in Europe and Japan are pursuing strategies to stimulate growth and inflation. This divergence has caused the dollar to soar against currencies around the world in recent months. ….

Many investors are bracing for turmoil in emerging markets as the dollar strengthens, making it more expensive for these countries to pay back international debt, and as U.S. growth beats much of the rest of the world. For instance, Indonesian companies have issued $11.4 billion of foreign-currency debt so far this year, according to Dealogic, putting them at risk for what analysts call a “currency mismatch.” This means these companies could struggle to pay off their dollar debts as their local currency, the rupiah, weakens in value against the greenback.

The WSJ ends on a very pessimistic note.

Stephen Jen, founding partner of hedge fund SLJ Macro Partners, said emerging-market currencies could “melt down” as investors accelerate their selling.

“Nothing the [emerging market] economies can do will stop these potential outflows, as long as the U.S. economy recovers,” Mr. Jen said.

My simplistic view is that market sentiment – gloom or optimism – is the most critical factor. And, I believe, that sentiment is a direct consequence of perceived vision and leadership. Obama has demonstrated that he is something of an analyst but he is no leader. Europe has no leader (apart from a reluctant Merkel) who communicates any clear vision of Europe or the world. In the absence of political leadership I am looking to industry and industry leaders – who I know exist – to provide the resilience to hold the fort and keep going till political leadership appears again.

The political leadership I am looking for is that person or persons who can provide vision and some real leadership for the G8 or the G20 groupings. No doubt it will come, but it could take some time. It has to, I think, come from the US or Europe. It is possible but unlikely to come from China or India or S. America for some time. Jeb Bush or Hilary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren are unlikely to provide such leadership. It could come from an unlikely source in Europe.

“Cometh the hour, cometh the person”, one hopes.

Paralysis by analysis as Obama is stuck “without a strategy” and behind the times

August 29, 2014

If I rate my expectations of Barack Obama when he was first elected at 90, he has now sunk to a negative rating because the world is a more dangerous place today than it was when his high rhetoric captured my imagination.

Now in situation after situation he appears to be caught in the trap of “paralysis by analysis”. With regard to the quality of managers I wrote:

The Proper Exercise of Power

At one extreme in the exercise of power is paralysis of action. Such paralysis occurs when the manager in spite of having power and in spite of having made the appropriate analyses finds he is unable to make the final judgement and to make the required choices. To take no action is always a valid option but needs to be a conscious decision, in which case it is not paralysis. At the other extreme we have the manager who rushes to judgement. This can result in a surfeit of actions where all options are addressed simultaneously in the hope that some of the actions will be beneficial. In between these extremes lies the proper exercise of power, wholly dependent upon the manager’s judgements and the quality of his judgements.

Obama, it seems by his own admissions is suffering from “paralysis by analysis”. He certainly cannot be accused of rushing to judgement. (In fact he cannot be accused of rushing to anywhere except perhaps the golf course). He was talking about ISIS in this report, but it could apply to almost every domestic or international issue he is faced with.

The Hill:

  1. “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama said.
  2. Obama said “folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are.”
  3. “We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them. At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard,” Obama said.

Edmund Burke: “Do the thing and you will have the power. But they that do not the thing – had not the power”.

He is still talking about making sure that they are making plans!

Up s**t creek, behind the times, planning to plan, without a strategy and without a paddle. 

It has nothing to do with his intelligence but it is about his courage to take actions. He makes a poor manager. And it is not exactly the stuff of leadership. He does not the thing.

Obama retreats – “Yes, We can” has become “But, We won’t”

May 29, 2014

Barack Obama’s two terms in office will come to be remembered for high expectations and his many good intentions let down by his aversion to risk, his caution and his indecision. Yesterday at a speech at West Point he reconfirmed my perceptions when he laid out his vision of a US foreign policy which would be less brash, more focused on diplomacy, more engaged with partners and – above all – cheaper. It could be considered a return to considered prudence after the knee-jerk, costly and ineffective Bush adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in this case I think this is more a reflection of cost pressure, indecision and risk aversion rather than prudence.

He still wants the US to lead – but from the back.

Katy Kay – BBC:

But Mr Obama ducks the trickiest moment of his foreign policy – the red line in Syria and the decision to go to Congress for a vote on force, which ultimately fell apart. This is unsurprising, as the American public has zero interest staying a day longer than planned in Afghanistan, much less committing to another large-scale military mission.The speech reflects the confusion of a country that is fed up with intervention but still likes the idea of being the world leader

The Washington Post report is not very enthusiastic.

Coming more than six years into a presidency devoted to winding down the wars, the speech featured a firm defense of his administration’s handling of foreign crises — including those in Nigeria, Syria and Ukraine — and a suggestion that many critics are out of step with a nation tired from 13 years of war. ….. 

“Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead,” Obama said. “If we don’t, no one else will.” …….. 

But Obama’s speech appeared to be less about changing the terms of the foreign policy debate in Washington than about appealing to a war-weary electorate, which twice chose him as president on platforms of steady withdrawal from foreign military operations. The address echoed Obama’s earlier defenses of his foreign policy — stressing such themes as multilateralism, Muslim outreach and ending torture — as a corrective response to the approach of the George W. Bush administration.

The US is tired with all the interventions George Bush led them into. In that sense Obama’s retreat from intervention as the “first step” is welcome. But the retreat is enforced and cutting cost is one of the key drivers. It appears to me that Obama is more reactive than pro-active. His driving from the back seat is very close to an abdication of leadership.

The heady days and great expectations of “Yes, We can!” have evaporated and Obama will be remembered for “But, We won’t”. 

The proper exercise of power

March 5, 2014

While Obama and Kerry and Putin all have “power”, I am not sure how expert they are at “the proper exercise of power”. The examples of Syria and now the Ukraine convince me that they – by virtue of their positions – wield power but they are a long way from being practitioners of the “proper” exercise of power. For Managers in the work-place I described “the proper exercise of power” as below and it applies also I think to politicians and leaders and heads of state.

Edmund Burke: “Do the thing and you will have the power. But they that do not the thing – had not the power”.

Consider our appointed manager …….. 

“He does the thing”.

No missing players. No missed actions.

No extra players. No wasted actions.

No misdirection. No collateral damage.

No dissipation of energy.

No cheers. No jeers. No fuss, no “muss”.

No turbulence. No noise! 

Just the music of the proper exercise of power!

(Extracted from Essence of a Manager)

Obama’s “promotion of democracy” leads to de facto support for Al Qaida in Syria and Neo-Nazis in Ukraine

March 1, 2014

Obama will go down in history as a follower rather than a leader, let alone the “leader of the free world”.

I have a theory that Obama’s indecision, his dithering and his aversion to risk of any kind has led to his actually supporting Al Qaida in Syria and is now leading him to help Neo-Nazis in the Ukraine. All in the name of promoting “democracy”. A quick strike in Syria was never on the cards in spite of all Obama’s bluster. He is incapable of taking any actions with such associated risk. Instead he supported the arming of rebel groups which are now being dominated by Al Qaida. His best option now – paradoxically – is that Assad manages to keep Al Qaida at bay. Remarkably the best chances for a real  “democracy” – eventually –  is now with Assad in power such that Al Qaida does not prevail. (And the example of “democracy promotion” leading to the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt should not be so soon forgotten. The Egypt with Sissi is not so different from Mubarak’s Egypt).

After Helping Arm Al Qaeda In Syria, US Government Says Al Qaeda In Syria A Threat To US

….. The Syrian Civil War is the epitome of a conflict that has no US national interest involved – neither side is allied with the United States nor is likely to ever be nor is there any vital security or even economic interest at stake.

But despite this total lack of relevance to the American people and country, the Obama Administration tried to enter the war. First there was an attempt to pretend the Assad government was a threat to the United States because it had chemical weapons, but then Assad agreed to remove the weapons. So then President Obama bypassed an American law to prevent arming terrorists to arm the “moderate” rebels within Syria.

Not long after Obama dodged the anti-terrorist law, the Al Qaeda faction of the Syrian rebels was in possession of the weapons Obama sent to Syria. So yes, after refusing to follow a law that was supposed to prevent arming terrorists, Obama ended up arming terrorists. Abysmally stupid does not even begin to describe this policy.

Now the supposedly “democratic” movement in Ukraine is being taken over by the Neo-Nazis. Obama is blustering again against Russia and the inevitable Russian intervention in the Crimea. He threatens that any Russian intervention will have “costs” – whatever that means. It is in part the US meddling in the Ukraine – ostensibly to promote “democracy” which has advantaged the Neo-Nazis and brought the Ukraine to where it is.

The Neo-Nazis of Ukraine

Reality on the ground in Ukraine contradicts the incompetent and immoral Obama regime’s portrait of Ukrainian democracy on the march.

To the extent that government exists in post-coup Ukraine, it is laws dictated by gun and threat wielding thugs of the neo-Nazi, Russophobic, ultra-nationalist, right-wing parties. Watch the video of the armed thug, Aleksandr Muzychko, who boosts of killing Russian soldiers in  Chechnya, dictating to the Rovno regional parliament a grant of apartments to families of protesters.

Read about the neo-nazis intimidating the Central Election Commission in order to secure rule and personnel changes in order to favor the ultra-right in the forthcoming elections.  Thug Aleksandr Shevchenko informed the CEC that armed activists will remain in CEC offices in order to make certain that the election is not rigged against the neo-nazis.  What he means, of course, is the armed thugs will make sure the neo-nazis win.  If the neo-nazis don’t win, the chances are high that they will take power regardless.

The Russians are already talking about another battle against the Nazis. It seems inevitable that Russia will now ensure its own influence in the Crimea with troops on the ground (even if they bear no Russian insignia). With 60% of the Crimean population being Russian (with 24% being Ukrainian and 12% being Tartars) there is little doubt that Russia will “respond” to calls for help from the Russian population and are already doing so. And once again – paradoxically – it could be Russian intervention in the Crimea which turns out to be the best defense against Neo-nazis exploting the US and Obama’s “promotion of democracy”.

NewsInfo: The newly-chosen prime minister of the Ukrainian southern region of Crimea on Saturday called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to help restore “peace and calm” to the Black Sea peninsula, amid a standoff with the new authorities in Kiev.

Crimea (Google Maps)

Crimea (Google Maps)

“Leaders” who can’t lead

April 18, 2013

Many, many years ago when I was first appointed a “manager”, my boss told me (and I don’t know if he was quoting someone):

Those who can lead , lead;
those who can’t lead, follow;
and those who think they can lead but can’t, blame others”

File:Congress-Graph.png

President Obama has a Democratic majority in the Senate to help him and a Republican majority in the House to carry along with him.  History will judge how much he accomplished during his terms but it is pretty clear – so far – that he takes few risks and has not been very successful in carrying his opponents towards any vision that he can communicate. For a US President I think “leadership” is manifested in being able to carry the country towards his vision even with the Senate and the House under the control of his opponents. That he has his own supporters with him is hardly any evidence of his leadership abilities. But there are 53 Democrats in the Senate . Yet he couldn’t even get all his own Democrats to stick their necks out, let alone the 7 Republicans he needed to get to the 60 required to make the cut.

Yesterday every single one of his proposals on gun control (nine in all) “failed to make the cut” in the Senate. Even the fairly innocuous measure of background checks on those wishing to purchase firearms was defeated. Inevitably the blame game began with an angry Obama blaming the Senate and the NRA and proclaiming that it was a shameful day for Washington.

Personally I think the US needs additional gun controls but that is not my point here. President Obama may prove to be an adequate administrator, but a leader he is not. He may well be one who thinks he can lead but can’t and so just ends up blaming others. A “follower” who ends up travelling in the wrong direction has few grounds for complaint.

Washington Post: 

President Obama’s ambitious effort to overhaul the nation’s gun laws in response to December’s school massacre in Connecticut suffered a resounding defeat Wednesday, when every major proposal he championed fell apart on the Senate floor.

It was a stunning collapse for gun-control advocates just four months after the deaths of 20 children and six adults in Newtown led the president and many others to believe that the political climate on guns had been altered in their favor. …… 

…..  One by one, the Senate blocked or defeated proposals that would ban certain military-style assault rifles and limit the size of ammunition magazines.

But the biggest setback for the White House was the defeat of a measure to expand background checks to most gun sales. The Senate defied polls showing that nine in 10 Americans support the idea, which was designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

“All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” a visibly angry Obama said as he delivered his response to the nation.

The president was flanked by Newtown families, a scowling Vice President Biden and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot in 2011 in Tucson and limped from the Oval Office to join Obama in the Rose Garden. ….. 

Steve Jobs was a leader – but where are the political leaders today?

October 6, 2011
Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...

Image via Wikipedia

Steve Jobs passed away yesterday. His passing got me thinking about leadership. The definition of a “leader” that I like best is

“one who visualises and then moves his “people” (or group or company or “tribe”) from a given “state of existence” (set of conditions or location or both) towards or to another desired state”

Steve Jobs was a leader who had a vision of the world and moved very many towards that destination – and not just at Apple.

With this definition it is incumbent on a leader to first have the vision to be able to visualise and communicate the “desired” state and then to carry his “people” with him towards that state. Kicking and screaming if necessary. A leader is not one who is merely an effective administrator who follows rules and hopes for a beneficial result. A leader is not one who – in the name of democracy or consensus – blends and averages out the opinions of many to produce a grey, amorphous blob of a destination. He is not one who becomes merely a “keeper of a process” where the process reigns supreme and the direction of movement and the change of state achieved is subordinated to maintaining the process.

Political democracies around the world today are suffering from a dearth of leadership. Maintaining the “democratic process” has become more important than defining the direction of where we are going and ensuring movement in that direction. Right now every single democratic leader has degenerated into a professional pessimist. The 2008 financial crisis probably prevents any “leader” today from daring to be optimistic and confident enough to look to the future. The current financial crisis being played out in Europe is no doubt due to the irresponsible and profligate behaviour of Greece and Italy and Spain and Portugal. But deeper than that is the lack of any leadership not only in these countries but also in the rest of Europe. Throughout the democratic world today it is fears which subordinate actions and the definition of courage is “when fear is subordinated to purposeful actions”. The people in positions of leadership lack courage.

In modern party political democracies, it is party politics which govern and every party is concerned primarily with getting to governmental power or staying there. Minor and fringe political parties (often fanatical and extreme) are allowed to hold the balance of power just so that some other larger party can form or remain in government. When these minor parties exercise greater influence than they should, the entire concept of democracy is compromised and corrupted (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Austria). Even in effectively two party states like the US and the UK and Australia and France and India, the lack of a clear mandate leads to political deadlock on the one hand, or having a clear mandate on the other leads to an oppression by the majority. (The Liberal Democrats in the UK merely bend with the wind to stay in government and do not count). Proportional representation in many European countries leads to hodge-podge, coalition governments with no clear direction and no clear mandate (Germany and Italy for example). In Belgium there is no government at all and actions have been abdicated to the bureaucrats and the administrators.

In political democracies there are no leaders visible today. Only followers.

Obama, Merkel, Cameron, Sarkozy, Gillard, Noda and Manmohan Singh all behave essentially like sheep or like “keepers of a process” and I see no signs of any real leadership. Staying in government is the name of the game and there is no hint of a vision of a desired state of conditions – let alone any movement towards such a desired state of conditions.

It is high time for some vision and some optimism and some daring in the political arena.


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