The following essay is a critical response to: “New Insights about Leadership,” an article that can be found in an edition of the Scientific American’s magazine: Mind. That piece is authored by: Stephen D. Reicher, S. Alexander Haslam and Michael J. Platow.
Traditional theories of leadership center on issues such as charisma, intelligence, and other personality traits. According to such theories, ‘leaders’ utilize the inborn qualities that are believed to be at the heart of leadership – whatever one’s theory of leadership may be -- in order to apply that quality of ‘leadership’ to an audience in order to induce the members of target-audience to pursue whatever behavior, ideas, or policies are desired by the leader.
The induction process occurs when a ‘leader’ instills the individual members of the target audience with a sense of: will power, dedication, motivation, and/or emotional orientation that the members of a given set of people would not have – according to the leader -- in the absence of such assistance. The justification for pursuing such an induction process is to: (a) help a given set of people to accomplish more than it would have without assistance from a leader; and/or (b) to assist a given set of people to realize what is believed to be in the best interests of those people.
Whether, or not, that which is to be accomplished by such a set of people is good thing is another matter. Similarly, whether, or not, that which is to be realized through the assistance of such a leader is truly in the best interests of the people being ‘assisted’ in such circumstances gives rise to another set of issues and questions other than that of the idea of leadership considered in and of itself.
New theories of leadership postulate that the ‘leader’ is someone who works to come to understand the beliefs, ideas, values, and interests of the followers in order to lay the groundwork for an effective dialogue through which one will be able to identify how the group should act.
The foregoing idea reminds me of the Communist dictum – ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.’ I once asked a person who spouted the foregoing maxim about the problem of who would be the one to determine ‘ability’ or ‘need’, and in accordance with what criteria would such determinations be made … and we might just note in passing that the maxim is not gender neutral. The individual to whom my query was directed was unable to answer my question although he was reported to be quite knowledgeable about communism.
Just as questions can be asked about the identity of the members of a classless society who are supposed to give us ‘objective’ answers to the nature of ‘ability’ and ‘need’, so too, one may raise questions about the character of the dialogical means through which one will arrive at solutions to the question of what are to be the ways in which a given group should act. For example, who will be the one to determine what the beliefs, values, and interests of the ‘followers’ are or should be? What methods will be used? What theories will shape such considerations? How does one know that what the masses believe and value ought to be what is pursued en masse? How does one establish a dialogue between the one and the many, especially when the many are not likely to all believe the same things or value the same things? If the masses already have beliefs and values, then what need is there for leaders to identify those ideas and values in order to get people to act in certain ways? Aren’t the people already acting on such beliefs and values independently of ‘leaders’, and if they are not, then doesn’t this suggest that the beliefs and values that may actually be governing behavior are other than what was being professed? And, if so, in which direction should the leaders seek to influence the followers, and what justifies any of this?
The idea of having a real dialog between the one (the leader) and the many strikes me as odd. If a leader has the power or ability to determine which parts of the dialog will be enacted or dismissed, then I am not really sure that we are talking about the notion of dialog in, say, Martin Buber’s sense of an ‘I-thou’ relationship in which the two facets of the dialog both enjoy an equal set of rights (with concomitant duties to respect the rights of the other) and are co-participants in the sacredness of life -- however one wishes to characterize such sacredness (that is, in spiritual terms or in humanistic terms).
It is possible to have leaderless groups who engage in a multi-log in order to reach a consensus about how to proceed in any given matter. Within this sort of leaderless group, there may be “elders” who have earned the respect of the other members of the group because of the insight, skills, intelligence, talents, and/or abilities of those “elders’, but the function of these elders is not to direct a discussion toward some predetermined goal, purpose, or outcome, but, rather, their function is the same as everyone else’s function within the set of people engaging one another – namely, to enrich the discussion and, thereby, try to ensure that all aspects of a question, problem, or issue have been explored with due diligence.
Many indigenous peoples often operated through such leaderless groups. Westernized people – who tend to insist that any collective or group of people must have a leader or head person – frequently mischaracterized the elders of some indigenous peoples as being leaders in a Western sense and, therefore, as individuals who had characteristics and functions comparable to the leaders in non-indigenous groups or societies when this was not always so.
In such leaderless groups, the set of people as a whole decide actions through consensus. In other words, through an extended multi-log (which might take place in one setting or over a period of time) every member of the group either comes to see the wisdom of collectively moving in a certain way – a way to which all of the members of the group have contributed in and helped shape -- or the group as a whole does not reach a consensus and everyone has the right, without prejudice, to refrain from participating in any collective action that some lesser portion of the whole may take.
A central principle in some modern theories of leadership is, supposedly, to have leaders try to influence followers to do what the latter individuals really want to do rather than trying to impose things on the followers through the application of various forms of carrot-and-stick stratagems. However, one might raise the following question concerning such an alleged central principle: If someone really wants to do something, then why aren’t they doing it? What is holding them back? Is that which is restraining them something that is constructive or destructive? Is that which the ‘followers’ allegedly really want to do something that is constructive or destructive? What are the criteria, methods, and processes of evaluation that are to be used in sorting this all out?
According to some the new theories of leadership, a leader needs to position himself or herself among the people to get the latter to believe that the leader is one of them. If, or when, a “leader” is able to become positioned in such a manner, the belief in such theories is that this will help the leader to gain credibility among the people. That credibility can be used to leverage group behavior.
However, it is an oxymoron to say that a leader is one of the people. After all, there is a reason why two different terms are being used to refer to the two sides of the equation.
The leader is not one of the people, but, rather, is just someone who is trying to induce people to believe that she or he is one of them. If the leader were truly one of the people, then that person would not be in a position to determine what course of action is to be pursued by the set of people being led.
Situations in which sincere multi-logs occur do not have leaders or followers. There are only participants, all of whom are equal with respect to rights and duties concerning such rights\ -- although there may be one, or more, elders within the set of people engaging one another whose ideas may be valued without making the following of such ideas obligatory or mandatory with respect to other participants. The contributions of such elders are valued without necessarily being determinate in relation to the outcome of any given discussion.
Let’s return to the perspective of some of the newer theories of leadership in which one of the tasks of a would-be leader is become positioned so as to be viewed as one of the people so that credibility can be established in order to leverage the group in one direction rather than another. How does one know that the values and beliefs of a leader are really the same as those of the followers? What are the criteria, methods, and process of evaluation which are to be used in determining that the ideas and values of a leader and the ‘followers’ are coextensive?
Isn’t it possible that a leader might profess to being committed to certain kinds of beliefs and values in order to garner the support from the people that will generate an apparent mandate to permit the so-called leader to do whatever he or she wishes and, then attempt to argue that whatever such leaders do is an expression of what the people really want? More importantly, how could any given leader credibly claim that she or he shares the same beliefs and values as the followers when every group tends to be highly disparate in many ways when it comes to such beliefs and values?
Not all Blacks think in the same manner, or feel about issues in the same way, or share the same values. This feature of diversity also is true of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, Socialists or any other group or collective one cares to mention.
At any given instance, a leader’s values and beliefs might coincide with some of the beliefs and values of the ‘followers”, but the two sides will never be coextensive. This is why politicians often tend to speak to various groups in different ways in order to induce the latter individuals to believe that the ‘leader’ is one of them, and, then when the election is won, the leader can’t possibly act in ways or advocate values with which everyone who ‘followed’ that person (by voting for them) might agree.
From the perspective of the most recent theories of leadership, being a leader is not a matter of possessing certain kinds of personality characteristics. Instead, being a leader is a matter of learning the art of how to be a chameleon and, thereby, seem to blend in with any given crowd. The fact of the matter is that a leader could even appear to act in ways that reflect the likes of the followers without any need to actually be the sort of individual which is being projected to the crowd.
Naturally, when, as a result of keeping track of the actual behavior of leaders, people begin to see that there is a distinct difference between, on the one hand, what they -- the general membership -- tend to believe or value and, on the other hand, what the leaders believe and value, then conflicts and tensions tend to proliferate. This is where press secretaries and the other spin-masters enter stage right in order to smooth over such differences and, perhaps, to even re-frame such differences as supposedly being what the people actually needed and wanted.
Drawing a distinction between a collective and a group, at this point, may be of some assistance. A collective is an aggregate of people that is operating within a diffuse or defined framework, and this aggregate of people may not all be operating within such a framework willingly or they may be ‘participating’ in ways that generate friction, tension, or conflict within the collective as a reflection of such a dimension of unwillingness.
A group, on the other hand, is a segment of a collective that has come together willingly to serve or achieve a particular purpose or set of purposes. Oftentimes, although not necessarily, groups operate through consensus – that is, requiring unanimous agreement for action to take place – and when consensus is present, the group is a said to be coherent or unified in its purposes.
Because of the logistical problems surrounding the process of reaching a consensus, most groups tend to be small. However, the meaning of ‘small’ may vary with the character of conditions prevailing at a given point in time.
Groups, unlike collectives, often tend to be sensitive to temporal conditions. In other words, groups tend to come together for only a limited time and for limited purposes. When the time and/or the purpose(s) characterizing such a group expire, then, oftentimes, the group might expire as well. As such, groups tend to arise out of, and dissolve back into, a backdrop of collective dynamics involving various historical, social, economic, spiritual, ecological, psychological, philosophical, technical, scientific, legal, and political forces.
To the extent that a set of people is not unified, then that group is not coherent. Incoherent groups tend to be given to friction, conflict, tension, altercation, fragmentation, and dissolution.
Whether a set of people is considered to be a collective or an incoherent group may depend, in part, on the degree to which people are willing or unwilling participants in what is transpiring. Moreover, whether a set of people is considered to be a collective or an incoherent group might also depend on the extent to which such individuals have been induced to cede their moral and intellectual authority to other individuals within the set of people being considered (and there will be more on this issue of ceding moral and intellectual authority shortly).
Coherent groups usually do not need leaders … although there may be elders within the group whose ideas, values, and talents may be respected and utilized without making such a person a leader. Providing constructive contributions to a group that helps enable a set of people to achieve their goals and purposes is not the same thing as being a leader.
Different circumstances, projects, problems, and so on may come to feature the expertise, wisdom, or abilities of different people within a social setting. It is the quality of contributions which are recognized by other members of the group that come to identify someone as an ‘elder’, and as various people within a set of people contribute across time, the identity of the elders who play influential roles in any given set of circumstances may change.
Some elders may have the capacity to identify talent and abilities in other people within a group. By advancing the names of other people so that the potential of these individuals can be drawn out to serve the purposes and goals of a group, the ‘human resource elder’ is not being a leader but is, instead, simply making constructive contributions in accordance with her or his abilities in order to help further a group’s purposes.
The wisdom exhibited by any given group often is a direct function of the diversity inherent in that group. However, diversity, in and of itself, is not enough to generate wisdom with respect to any action that a group may take, and, therefore, one also must take into consideration the quality of the diversity which is present in any given set of circumstances.
Not all collectives constitute groups … even incoherent ones. A nation tends to be a collective that consists of a variety of coherent and incoherent groups, as well as any number of non-aligned individuals. A government tends to be a collective that consists of a variety of coherent and incoherent groups, along with any number of non-aligned individuals. A schooling system tends to consist of a variety of coherent and incoherent groups, together with any number of non-aligned individuals. An economy is a collective that consists of an array of coherent and incoherent groups, as well as any number of non-aligned individuals. Many corporations – especially publically traded entities – tend to consist of a variety of coherent and incoherent corporations, along with any number of non-aligned individuals, and, in addition, the bigger a company is, the more likely it is to be a collective rather than a group.
In addition, one should draw a distinction between, on the one hand, a goal or purpose, and, on the other hand, an agenda. A goal or purpose is self-contained and does not extend beyond the essential character of the goal or purpose being pursued, whereas, an agenda is a process which seeks to usurp the goals and purposes of another to serve some end which is independent of such a goal or purpose.
For example, seeking to feed the hungry is a goal or purpose. Using the former activity – that is, feeding the hungry -- to help bring a person to power constitutes an agenda.
Specific goals and purposes are what they are. They are not intended to extend beyond the character of a given purpose or goal – although, on occasion, the pursuing of one goal or purpose may have ramifications for other aspects of a social setting that were not originally intended when such a goal or purpose was originally envisioned.
Agendas, on the other hand, usually extend beyond the context of some given purpose or goal. Furthermore, agendas tend to involve techniques and strategies of undue influence that are intended to illicitly persuade – and, thereby, exploit -- someone with respect to the issue of ceding away an individual’s moral and intellectual authority to another human being. As such, agendas are used to re-frame social settings to induce people into believing that they are striving for one thing when, in reality, those people are being manipulated into serving some other purpose or set of purposes. The more narrowly defined purpose is the ‘Trojan Horse’ through which a hidden agenda gains access to people’s original intentions and destroys those people in the process.
The intellectual aspect of one’s essential, existential authority gives expression to one’s capacity to search for, and within certain limits, either find truth or to peel away that which is not true and, thereby, establish a closer, if rather complex, relationship with the nature of truth in a given set of circumstances. The moral facet of one’s essential, existential authority entails an individual’s sincere struggle to act in accordance with one’s understanding of the nature of truth at any given point in time.
The way in which a person attempts to do due diligence with respect to her or his moral and intellectual authority may not always be correct. Mistakes may be made and errors committed with respect to the exercise of either moral and/or intellectual authority.
However, if such mistakes and errors are the result of sincere efforts, an individual will continue to struggle to shape the exercise of moral and intellectual authority into a process of learning through which that person has the opportunity to develop a rich, experience-based wisdom. Ceding one’s moral and intellectual authority to another short-circuits the learning process and prevents one from developing wisdom in relation to improving one exercise of one’s moral and intellectual authority as one engages, and is engaged, by life’s experiences.
Techniques and strategies of undue influence are designed to obstruct, undermine, or co-opt an individual’s efforts to struggle toward realizing either one’s intellectual authority and/or one’s moral authority. In addition, techniques and strategies of undue influence seek to induce people to be willing to cede their moral and intellectual authority to another individual, group, organization, party, or government thereby enabling the latter ‘entity’ to draw upon the ceded authority to ‘legitimize’ or ‘rationalize’ some given action, policy or agenda.
The more people there are who can be induced to cede their moral and intellectual authority to such an individual, group, organization, party or government, then the more powerful does the latter become. In fact, such power becomes one more tool in the arsenal of undue influence to broaden its sphere of control over other individuals who may not have ceded their moral and intellectual authority but whose ability to resist the exercise of that power which is rooted in ceded authority because the former is often severely attenuated and out-flanked.
Acquiring power through collecting the ceded moral and intellectual authority of others can never be justified even when constructive results may ensue through the use of such ceded authority. Such acquired power can never be justified because it is predicated on usurping the most essential dimension of what it means to be a human being, and sooner or later, the continued use of the power acquired through ceded authority will destroy not only individuals but the social setting as well, and history bears witness to this existential principle.
Working for a specific goal or purpose does not generally require anyone to cede his or her moral and intellectual authority to other human beings because the individual tends to be actively and directly involved with the goal or purpose being considered in a way in which that individual has full control over his or her moral and intellectual authority as they act. In other words, the goal or purpose gives expression to a person’s moral and intellectual understanding of the way things should be, and, therefore, serves the given purpose or strives toward realizing a given goal in concert with that individual’s direct exercise of his or her moral and intellectual authority.
One does not have to cede one’s moral and intellectual authority in order to be able to work in co-operation with other people who also are operating in accordance with their own commitment to observing due diligence in relation to exercising their moral and intellectual authority as responsible agents in the world. Reciprocity is one of the key features of people who are in harmony with one another as they maintain control over their respective spheres of moral and intellectual authority while acting as independent agents in a social setting. The reciprocity is a reflection of the way in which the independent agents within the group or social setting tend to honor the right and responsibility of other people to exercise due diligence with respect to their respective capacities to serve as sources for moral and intellectual authority.
Agendas, on the other hand, are almost entirely devoid of considerations of reciprocity except in ways that have been reframed to make the relationship between a leader and the followers seem more equitable or appear more given to reciprocity than actually is the case. Those who push agendas rarely, if ever, are interested in working with people in order to ensure that the moral and intellectual authority of the latter is protected, preserved, and/or enhanced because doing this would tend to be counterproductive to and individual, organization, party, or government being able to push through an agenda.
To be able to successfully pursue an agenda, one needs: either raw power – in the form of brute force -- or one needs the power that is acquired through inducing people to cede their moral and intellectual authority. The latter form of power seems more civilized than the exercise of brute force – whether in the form of an individual enforcer, or in the form of militaristic, legal, or governmental enforcement – but using the power acquired through inducing people to cede their moral and intellectual authority is, in the long run, every bit as destructive and unjustifiable as is the exercise of brute force to realize some given agenda.
When a person is not willing to cede his or her moral and intellectual authority, then such an individual recognizes and understands that the authority for any action issues from, or is rooted in, the person and does not issue from, nor is it rooted in, anyone else. When a person cedes her or his moral and intellectual authority, then such an individual is vesting that authority in another human being, group, institution, organization, party, or government to enable the latter to make decisions on behalf of the person who is ceding that authority.
Furthermore, the individual who is ceding moral and intellectual authority to another human being tends to feel and to believe that she or he is no longer required to be a guardian over, or exercise due diligence with respect to, how such authority is actually being used.
Having moral and intellectual authority is a birthright. This is true from a spiritual, as well as a humanistic, perspective.
To have such authority means that one is responsible for exercising due diligence both intellectually and morally to ensure, to the best of one’s capabilities, that what one is doing does not harm, undermine, or compromise anyone else’s capacity for exercising similar authority in relation to her or his own life. To cede such authority to others means that one has been induced to abdicate the throne, so to speak, of one’s own individual kingdom -- together with the authority which is, by birthright, vested in such a kingdom – and, thereby, to turn over that authority to another human being to dispose of as the latter individual judges to be appropriate.
When ceded moral and intellectual authority leads to empowerment of some other individual, organization, party, or government, such empowerment will inevitably be turned back upon the source from which that power originally was derived (i.e., the one who has been induced to cede moral and intellectual authority) in order to try to convince that source that she or he never had a right to such authority to begin with. Techniques of undue influence (involving the media, schooling, government policy, theories of jurisprudence, religious institutions, and various forms of social pressure) will be employed to keep individuals disengaged from their inherent right to observe due diligence with respect to the exercise of moral and intellectual authority.
Since the time of Max Weber, many people have been captivated by the idea of “charismatic leadership”. A charismatic leader is someone who, supposedly, is to serve as a savior of some kind … an individual who will solve the maladies of a tribe, group, or collective … the one who will lead humanity to some mythical utopia.
When, historically speaking, so many ‘charismatic leaders’ turned out to be oppressive, self-aggrandizing, murdering, self-serving tyrants, then some people began to sour on the underlying traditional idea of leadership that was rooted in the notion that leadership is a function of personality traits of one kind or another which are inherent in the leader. Some of those who were dissatisfied with traditional approaches to the notion of leadership, went in search of some other, hopefully more fertile ground in which to plant the seed of leadership
For example, some people came up with the idea that the best leaders are those who give the impression that they are part of a set of people and, as leaders, are only really interested in helping people to get what they want and, as leaders, to act in ways that will allow people to realize that which the people actually desire. This is referred to as a “contingency model” because the concept of leadership is considered to be a function of the context in which a so-called leader operates.
Traditional models of leadership claimed that leaders were individuals who could overcome problematic circumstances through the manner in which they imposed their will on, or did their charismatic magic in relation to, such problems. Newer models of leadership maintain that it is the nature of the circumstances that will determine who will be a successful leader.
‘Contingency model-approaches’ to leadership maintain that every context involves one, or more, challenge for the exercise of appropriate leadership. Being able to successfully navigate such challenges suggests that there may be an optimum match between the nature of a contextually-based challenge and the qualities that a leader should exhibit in order for the latter for an individual to meet the challenge of leadership that is posed by a given set of circumstances. In other words, according to some of the newer theories of leadership, only a person with a certain kind of skill set will be able to succeed in any given set of circumstances involving a challenge of leadership.
To claim that every set of social or group circumstances poses challenges of leadership, is to frame discussion in a particular way. In other words, if one assumes that whatever problems arise in a group or social setting give expression to one, or more, challenges of leadership, then this is to automatically assume that all problems must be filtered through the idea of leadership in order to deal with those problems.
If, on the other hand, one were to argue that whatever problems arise within a social or group setting poses a challenge for the members of that setting, and in the process, one excluded any considerations of leadership from being part of possible proposed solutions, then one might begin to think about how to try to resolve such problems in ways that do not recognize the concept of a ‘leader’ in any traditional sense that requires one to make a distinction between leaders and followers with concomitant differences in assigned roles.
In the newer theories of leadership much depends on how one characterizes the nature of the leadership challenge that exists in a given set of circumstances. In addition, much will depend on how one believes those challenges may be best met … or, even what one believes the criteria are for determining what constitutes ‘best meeting’ such challenges … or, what one believes about whose perspective should be defining the criteria and methods for determining what might be meant by the idea of ‘ being best met’.
To say that circumstances or context provide the criteria for understanding the nature of leadership is to ignore the question of who gets to ‘frame’ those circumstances in terms of what the latter supposedly are about, involve, or mean. More importantly, and as outlined earlier, the new approach to leadership is predicated on the unquestioned premise that leaders are either necessary or even desirable in any given situation.
The authors of the Scientific American Mind article on ‘leadership’ believe that there is a symbiotic relationship between a leader and the followers who make up a set of social circumstances. This presumes that the dynamic involving: leaders and followers, is necessarily symbiotic rather than, for example, possibly parasitic in character, and this is a questionable presumption.
Newer theories of leadership give emphasis to the importance of having insight into the dynamics of group psychology. In other words, every individual participates in groups from which facets of identity are derived – namely, social identity. This aspect of identity is part of what makes group behavior possible since as different individuals identify with a given group and such a group acts in certain ways, individual behavior will be shaped by what goes on in the group.
However, what if someone raises the question of whether identifying with a group or permitting a person’s behavior to be shaped by a group are necessarily good things? What if the self-realization of a person -- and, quite irrespective of whether one construes the idea of self-realization in spiritual or humanistic terms – depends on establishing an individual’s sense of self quite independently of groups? What if the requirements of morality require an individual to swim against the currents inherent in the flow of group dynamics?
To be sure, human beings have a social dimension to them. We need other human beings to develop physically or emotionally in a healthy way, and we need other human beings to be able to, for example, learn to speak a language, and we need other human beings to be able to learn how to navigate through, and survive in, waters that are populated by the presence of other people. Furthermore, there is no doubt that many, if not most people, tend to filter their sense of self through the lenses provided by various groups.
Nonetheless, none of the foregoing admissions require one to say that one’s sense of identity should be a function of groups. Furthermore, none of the foregoing admissions requires one to contend that group dynamics is always a constructive force, nor do any of the foregoing admissions demonstrate that one does not have an obligation to oneself -- and, perhaps, even to the truth of things -- to resist the tendency of groups to want to impose themselves on individuals in oppressive, destructive ways.
To claim that group behavior is only possible when everyone in the group shares the same goals, interests, values, and understandings is a contentious claim. In many societies and groups there are an array of negotiated, mediated, adjudicated, and electoral modes of settlement that are accepted not because everyone shares the same interests, values and understandings, but because the participants have some degree of, at least, minimal commitment to a framework of rules and procedures through which agreements will be reached that while not entirely satisfactory, nevertheless, such agreements do have enough points of attractiveness that will enable the collective to proceed to interact in somewhat cooperative ways, despite whatever dimensions of friction and disharmony may be present.
How different people understand the underlying framework of principles, rules, and procedures that are being alluded to above and which govern such processes may be quite varied. Disputes and conflicts may arise because of these sorts of hermeneutical differences, and, as a result, problems tend to proliferate. At that point, groups may come together and try to utilize the underlying procedural framework, once again, as a way to try to sort things out … not because everyone agrees on the meaning, value, or purpose of that framework but because they don’t have an alternative to such a system … unless , of course, a given community, society, or nation reaches a tipping point in which the participants believe that revolution – whether peaceful or violent – is the only way of trying to find a more equitable, logical, practical, and effective way of doing social things.
Leaders tend to be the gate-keepers of the different modalities for: mediating, negotiating, or adjudicating settlements within a given framework of group-dynamics. The power and authority of these leaders tends to be derived, in some sense, from such a system, and, therefore, leaders have a vested interest in maintaining that kind of system quite independently of whether, or not, that system actually serves the needs of the people whose behavior and ideas are being shaped, framed, and filtered by that system.
The reason why leaders often need to resort to an understanding of group psychology is so they can determine the fulcrum points in society that when leveraged will be capable of moving the members of a groups in directions that either will maintain the status quo or will advance the agenda of the leadership. If a leader can convince the ‘followers’ that he or she is one of them, and if the leader can identify the appropriate tipping points within such a group of followers, then the credibility that is derived from identifying oneself with the group’s sense of self will permit a leader to leverage such credibility to move the group in a desired direction – not because this is what they group necessarily really needs but because the group is ‘led’ to believe that such a direction is what the group has wanted all along or is in the ‘best interests’ of the group.
Part of the process of the new approach to leadership involves techniques of persuasion that are designed to induce people to identify with particular groups and to induce such individuals to believe that the Interests, values, and beliefs of the group are their own interests, values and beliefs. These sorts of techniques permit leaders to gravitate away from using brute power to rule over people, and, instead, substitute’s the willingness of someone to be led in various directions provided such a person can be persuaded that his or her interests, together with the interests of a given group, are co-extensive.
Thus, a person's desire for a sense of identity, together with that individual’s desire not to be considered as an outsider relative to certain groups , become leverage points through which a person’s life can be moved in certain directions. Moreover, once a person identifies with a group, the challenge becomes one of learning how to leverage the group, knowing that individuals within the group will simply follow along.
Leaders create a story line or mythology for the group. The people in that group follow the story line or give expression to the mythology, and in so doing enhance their own sense of identity.
In instances where there is a strong sense of group identity, those individuals within the group who best exemplify the sense of shared identity of such a group will tend to be the ones who, according to the new theories of leadership, will become the most effective leaders. There are a variety of assumptions inherent in such a perspective.
First of all, human beings tend to have varying degrees of allegiance with a number of groups that populate the larger collective. Some of these allegiances may be more important than others.
People are members of political parties, religious groups, families, neighborhoods, cities, states/provinces, ethnic groups, unions, management associations, socio-economic classes, professional groups, and so on. Consequently, situations rarely are: ‘black and white’ or ‘us’ versus ‘them’.
There are cross-currents that run through our group affiliations. As a result, there often are divided loyalties.
Depending on the individual, some groups may have a stronger hold on one’s loyalty than do others. Depending on the individual, a person may have more of his or her need to belong met by some groups more than by others.
Therefore, official or unofficial membership in various groups may, or may not, not contribute all that much to a person’s sense of identity. Moreover, a sense of shared identity may vary from circumstance to circumstance and from time to time.
For example, going to sporting event and rooting for the ‘home’ side may create a sense of shared identity with all those other people who are cheering for the same team. However, once one leaves the sporting arena, then: whatever socio-economic class, or whatever party, or whatever ethnicity, or whatever religion one belongs to, may become much more important than any shared identity involving a sports team. Or, going to a specific church, mosque, temple, or synagogue may give expression to one kind of shared identity, but once one leaves such a place of worship and goes home to a particular neighborhood or goes into the voting booth, another sort of shared identity may take over.
In addition, those who look at the world through the lenses of social psychology often can’t see the individual. Individuals may be committed to ideals, principles, values, purposes, interests, and goals that are not necessarily a function of a shared identity with others but are, rather, a function of the person’s own search for truth, justice, morality, and life’s purpose quite independently of what other people might believe or do.
Furthermore, even when there may be a certain similarity or overlap of interests, values, principles, and so on, between an individual and a given group, nonetheless, such overlap or similarity does not necessarily mean there is a consensus between the individual and group about what such interests, values, or principles might mean or how they should be translated into behavior. A group may not be a good fit for an individual or there may be fault lines of tension, friction, and disagreement that tend to color and shape a person’s relationship with that group.
People may go from group to group looking for something that reflects or matches what is going on inside of those individuals. Such people may already have a vague or diffuse sense of identity and they are looking for other people who seem to share that same sense of things, so a group is not what gives the individual her or his sense of identity as much as it may confirm what already exists, and when people encounter such confirmation, then this is what makes them feel like they belong.
On the other hand, if a person feels that what is going on in a group no longer reflects or resonates with his or her sense of identity, then the person may withdraw from the group or move to its periphery, becoming relatively uninvolved in what is going on. Under such circumstances, it is not the group that provides the individual with her or his sense of identity but, instead, a group just serves as a means of validating that sense … a means that may no longer be performing its function.
Within almost all groups there often are differences of understanding about what the group stands for, or what its purpose is, or what role the group should play in a person’s life, or what its core values and principles are, or how those values and principles should be translated into action or behavior. Different people frame the group in different ways and such framings generate allegiances, loyalties, and fault lines.
Groups are not entities unto themselves. Groups are dynamic structures whose shape, character, and orientation are a function of what happens as different individuals and factions within the group play off against one another in order to determine whose perspective will tend to frame the group as being one set of things rather than some other set of things.
Therefore, to say that the person who best exemplifies a group’s values and ideals is likely to become the most effective leader in such a group presupposes that the character of the group is clearly identifiable. Sometimes “leaders” from within a group are identified who exhibit certain qualities that, if correctly used, might be able to push the identity of a group in certain directions that are conducive to the agendas of people outside the group who wish to commandeer the group’s energy and activity to serve the purposes of the external agency.
Finally, there is an unstated premised – something touched on earlier – that is running through virtually all of the talk about leadership. This premise maintains that leaders are necessary and, therefore, followers need to be created.
However, perhaps we should step back and ask a question. Why are leaders necessary?
A lot of answers might be given to the foregoing question. Leaders are necessary to keep society safe, or leaders are necessary to achieve human aspirations, or leaders are necessary to organize society, or leaders are necessary to ensure that resources are used wisely and properly, or leaders are necessary to help educate the unruly and unwashed masses, or leaders are necessary because human beings need moral guidance.
All of the foregoing ideas are predicated on the idea that only leaders know: how to keep society safe, or how to achieve their aspirations, or how to organize society, or how to use resources wisely, or how to educate people, or how to provide moral guidance. I have yet to see any proof of the foregoing contention that only leaders know how to do things or should be the ones who tell the ‘followers’ how to proceed in any given context.
Leaders tend to be individuals who are good at getting people to concede their moral and intellectual authority to such individuals in something akin to a process in which proxy votes are turned over to another agent at, or prior to, a stockholders meeting so that the one with the proxy votes has more power and control over things than otherwise might be the case. Leaders tend to be individuals who are good at framing life as a process that demands leadership so that the followers can be assisted to move in the right directions by ceding their moral and intellectual authority to act as individuals to the group leader. Leaders tend to be individuals who are good at convincing others that the latter people have a duty or obligation to cede their moral and intellectual authority to the leader … that the leader has a sacred right to dispose of your intellectual and moral authority as the leader deems necessary
Even if one were to accept the foregoing idea – namely, that leaders are necessary – it doesn’t automatically follow that every leader is capable of leading people in the right direction concerning the nature and purpose of life. So, there is a problem surrounding this issue of leadership – namely, even if one were to accept the basic premise that leaders are somehow necessary (which is, at best, debatable), one still would have to identify which leaders are actually capable of leading ‘followers’ in the appropriate direction with respect to truth, justice, moral qualities, purpose, education, security, economic activity, and the like.
According to some of the proponents of modern leadership theory, true leaders are those who are able to get people to act in concert with one another. This is done not through arranging for the people in a group to be watched by security forces or management groups or supervisors to ensure that the members stay true to the vision of the leaders, but, instead, it is accomplished by getting people to identify themselves with the values and purposes of a group, and, then, the members become their own watchdogs -- both individually and collectively.
Once a person has ceded his or her moral and intellectual authority to a group, then ‘leaders’ don’t need anyone to oversee the behavior of the group members. The authority of the group, and, thereby, of the leader, has been internalized within individual members by the very act of ceding authority to another, and, therefore, those members will tend to operate in accordance with an internalized understanding which indicates that proper authority comes from without and not from within. In whatever way the group moves, the members will follow because the internalized authority of the leader – which has been acquired through the ceding of intellectual and moral authority by individual members -- and the group – which expects other members to cede their intellectual and moral authority in the same way -- will require this. If one wishes to continue to be a part of the group and if one wishes to continue to derive one’s sense of identity from the group, then one must continue to cede one’s moral and intellectual authority to the group and/or its leader.
One of the challenges of ‘leadership’ is to identify those members of a group who are beginning to indicate -- through their words and behavior -- that such individuals no longer wish to continue to cede their intellectual and moral authority to the group or to the leader. Such individuals tend to disrupt the efforts of the leadership to get the people in the group to work in a concerted manner and, consequently, those wayward individuals must be handled in some manner.
Thus, a second challenge for leadership is to try to find ways that are designed to work with, or work on, individuals who are wavering in relation to their sense of group identity and seek to reintegrate those individuals back into the values and principles that the leadership has assigned to the group as constituting the best way to move forward to give expression to the alleged purposes of the group … at least, as envisioned by the leadership. If such efforts toward reintegration should fail, then this would seem to lead to a new, perhaps irresolvable, challenge to some of the newer theories of leadership – namely, what does one do when people don’t want to be led.
Social psychologists such as Solomon Asch, Stanley Milgram, Philip Zimbardo and others have shown that even one defector can influence other members of a group to act in ways that run contrary to group expectations, norms, purposes, and actions. Therefore, when the forces of internalized authority within individuals begin to falter or weaken, steps may have to be taken to prevent the spread of the ‘virus’ or ‘malignancy’ to other members of the group. In one way or another, members of a group seemingly need to be persuaded that re-acquiring the moral and intellectual authority that they previously ceded to leadership is not a morally, and/or spiritually, and/or religiously, and/or politically, and/or economically wise thing to do.
Thus, even in the context of newer theories of leadership, the indigenous leader of a group – that is, the one who supposedly best exemplifies the purpose, quality, or identity of a given group -- is still a watchdog who supervises group activity and looks for deviations from, or forces which run counter to, various group purposes, values, ideals, goals, and aims. As long as the leader’s authority has been internalized by the other members of the group, then such members will carry the conscience of the group within them as they move about, but when such internalized authority begins to unravel, then the leader of such a group might have to begin to act just like leaders in traditional theories of leadership –that is, they might have to try to pursue tactics, techniques, and stratagems that will permit the leader to reassert his or her authority over, or impose her or his will upon, group behavior.
Authority comes in the form of at least two flavors. One variety occurs when an individual is competent – or more than competent – in relation to some ability, talent, skill, or form of expertise -- and, as a result, other people recognize the presence of such competence and are prepared, to varying degrees, to be influenced by such competence as long as being influenced does not require a person to cede his or her moral and intellectual authority in any way to the individual who is sharing her or his competence. This sort of authority helps to enhance everyone’s potential, like tools enhance people’s ability to do a variety of additional or extended tasks beyond the normal or usual abilities of such individuals.
A second species of authority involves the willingness of one or more people to cede their intellectual or moral authority to another human being. When such ceding occurs, the person(s) to whom such an important dimensions of being human is (are) ceded acquires authority over the ones who have ceded that dimension of being human. Under these circumstances, a leader can have no authority over anyone unless it is gained through such a process of ceding.
The first variety of authority is: co-operative, constructive, and is based on sharing experience and/or understanding, and/or abilities/talents. Most importantly, this mode of authority does not require the person who is benefitting through being influenced by such competence to cede anything to the individual who is influencing them.
I refer to this form of authority as ‘authoritative consultation’. This is what an ‘elder’ – that is, a person who manifests some degree of socially recognized competence with respect to one, or more, facets of life -- contributes to any social setting in which the elder participates.
The aforementioned second variety of authority is: imposed, problematic, and is not about sharing but, rather, exacts a price for maintaining the relationship. That price is paid in the form of being required to cede one’s moral and intellectual authority to another individual (or other individuals) in exchange for the ‘service’ of leadership.
I refer to this form of authority as ‘pathological authority’. Such authority is rooted in a delusional system concerning how people see themselves in relation to others.
More specifically, anyone who believes that he or she needs to induce others to cede their moral and intellectual authority to a ‘leader’ in order for the leader to be able to accomplish his or her purposes fails to understand an essential dimension of human nature – which, in part, involves the ability and right to freely pursue due diligence in conjunction with life in relation to the constructive exercise of one’s moral and intellectual authority – then such an individual is operating out of a delusional system that can continue to exist only by negating or being inattentive to certain existential facts concerning the nature of being human. On the other hand, anyone who believes that he or she must cede his or her moral and intellectual authority to other human beings in order to achieve one’s purposes in life is also operating through a delusional framework.
The two sides of the delusion dovetail with one another. Together they give expression to the pathological form of authority in which one creates a system of ‘followers’ and ‘leaders’ that is maintained by, respectively, the ceding and acquiring of moral and intellectual authority during which one side loses authority while the other side gains authority by virtue of which the former individuals – the ones who cede – are shaped, oriented, directed and manipulated by the ones to whom such authority is ceded and who, thereby, acquire power.
Of course, a person may use brute force, torture, or threats to gain power over others. However, exercising such power is not the same thing as having authority over someone.
Gaining authority requires the participation of people who have moral and intellectual authority to cede. Such people co-operate with or comply with or are obedient to leadership by means of the act of ceding their moral and intellectual authority to the leader. If this were not done, the ‘leader’ would have no authority, even if that leader did have the power to bring about their desired ends independently of matters of authority.
People who exercise brute force or power often mistake this for exercising authority. Pathological authority – of whatever vintage -- is based upon essential human rights that, rightly or wrongly, have been ceded away, whereas the exercise of brute power is not rooted in the ceding away of such essential human rights but involves forceful attempts to negate the existence of such rights altogether – as if they never existed and did not constitute anything of an inalienable nature with respect to which an individual had a choice about ceding away or not.
Constructive co-operation does not presuppose any form of power or authority in order for such co-operation to occur. Not only can a person co-operate with other human beings without ceding away any moral and intellectual authority, but an individual’s ability to truly and sincerely co-operate with others demands due diligence with respect to the exercise of his or her moral and intellectual authority in order to pursue co-operation in a fair and mutually reciprocal manner. Such co-operation ends when other people start trying to undermine, negate, or usurp my moral and intellectual authority for the purposes of pursuing an agenda that falls beyond the horizons of such a process of mutually reciprocal co-operation of two, or more, spheres of interacting sources of moral and intellectual authority.
Leadership, for the most part, is designed to short-circuit natural forms of co-operation among independent sources of moral and intellectual authority. Leadership is designed to co-opt such co-operation and re-frame it in terms of group activities that, in reality, are merely projections of a leader’s agenda or vision for a given group of people.
Framing collectives into ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’ is an arbitrary, artificial, and, ultimately, a destructive process. The truth of the foregoing is demonstrated by the many battles, skirmishes, and wars that have been fought to assert the superiority or priority of claimed rights of one group over the sovereignty of someone else’s right to exercise their own moral and intellectual authority as long as such exercise does not undermine the sovereignty of another to do likewise.
Groups are not born into this world. Individuals are born into the world, and, so, the creation of groups after the fact is something that often is being imposed on individuals and not something which is necessarily required by the basic facts of individual existence.
There are different ethnicities, linguistic populations, as well as different physiological and intellectual abilities. However, these differences do not have to be translated into differences with respect to issues involving equality or rights. All people are born with the same rights until some ‘leader’ decides to reframe existence in order to explain: why not everyone is entitled to such rights in the same way, and why ‘followers’ have a duty to cede their moral and intellectual authority to those who wish to control how the narrative of being human unfolds in a manner that is conducive to the purposes of those leaders.
Nations are artificial creations introduced by leaders to provide a reason for why individuals should be willing to cede their intellectual and moral authority to serve the purposes of that nation – which really means the purposes of the leaders of that nation. Nations could not exist if people had not been induced to cede their individual moral and intellectual authority to a collective that was to be supervised and molded by a leader of some kind.
From the perspective of some of the newer theories of leadership, there is a dynamic relationship between social identity and social reality. In other words, the kind of social identity that has pre-eminence in a given locality will shape and orient the sort of society that will arise in that locality. Alternatively, the sort of social reality which exists tends to affect the sort of social identities that that might be acquired by people.
The foregoing way of looking at things tends to remove individuals from the picture except to the extent that those individuals either serve a particular social identity or are shaped by a specific social reality. However, individuals are expressions of a prevalent social identity or are shaped by a particular social reality only to the extent they those individuals cede their moral and intellectual authority to that social identity or social reality.
Because human beings are hard-wired with a network of inclinations toward the realm of the social, we are vulnerable, in a variety of ways, to forces of social identity and social reality. These vulnerabilities tend to induce or seduce individuals to cede away their intellectual or moral authority so that they become dominated by the authority and/or power structures that leaders tend to wield in relation to those concessions.
Any attempt to induce or seduce an individual to cede away his or her moral and intellectual authority to another human being is an instance of exercising undue influence and is a form of moral and/or intellectual abuse of the individual who is the target of such an exercise. Trusting others to help one to develop, and bring to fruition, one’s capacity for moral and intellectual authority is not the same thing as being manipulated into ceding away such a capacity – unless, of course, one’s trust is betrayed.
Trust is rooted in a deep-rooted sense that, among other things, involves the idea that another person: values, is sensitive to, and wishes to protect one’s essential, existential capacity for exercising, as well as one’s right to exercise, one’s moral and intellectual authority. All violations of such trust give expression to a form of abuse – whether: physical, parental, familial, political, spiritual, economic, organizational, institutional, social, and/or governmental in nature.
Rituals, symbols, practices, and myths can be used to induce people to cede their moral and intellectual authority. Or, on the other hand, rituals, symbols, and so on can be used to help people explore and enhance the ability of individuals to learn how to not cede such authority but, instead, find ways of utilizing an individual’s inherent authority to co-operate with others in mutually satisfying and reciprocal ways.
A shared identity that arises from assisting individuals to exercise their individual moral and intellectual authority in: co-operative, constructive, just, compassionate, equitable, charitable and peaceful ways is not the goal of a group that divides members into ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’. A shared identity that helps individuals to realize their birth right as sources of sovereign moral and intellectual authority is an expression of a principle to which people in the collective are equally committed as individuals and not as members of a group, and to the extent that a collective or group seeks to thwart such an individualized principle, to that extent is the collective engaged in tactics of undue influence and practices of moral and intellectual abuse.
As such, individuals become willing participants in a group to the extent that the group continues to foster or nurture the moral and intellectual authority of individuals as sovereign agents. When the group stops serving this essential dimension of being human, then the individual needs to struggle toward re-acquiring whatever aspect of one’s essential sovereignty has been compromised or undermined and withdraw from such a group, if not actively begin to work against the interests of that sort of group which is antithetical to the very nature of what it is to be a human being.
The people within a collective who can assist individuals to develop their essential sovereignty in constructive and beneficial ways are not leaders. They are elders or ‘authoritative consultants’.
The source of such authoritativeness begins and ends with the degree of competency possessed by such a consultant with respect to helping someone to gain control over the latter’s individual capacity for constructively exercising moral and intellectual authority. For example, helping someone to read should be an activity that is designed to enhance the constructive sovereignty of an individual’s capacity for exercising moral and intellectual authority.
Learning how to read in a way that is free from forces of undue influence with respect to a person’s essential right of sovereignty is something that can be done in conjunction with an authoritative consultant who is competent in relation to helping someone to learn how to read in this manner. When an authoritative consultant seeks to have influence beyond the horizons of that person’s competency, then one begins to cross over into the realm of someone trying to be a leader for purposes of inducing someone to proceed in a direction that is not necessarily directed toward the healthy development of the latter individual’s capacity to exercise moral and intellectual authority in a constructive fashion – both in relation to that latter individual and to the surrounding collective.
The individual who is learning to read does not have to cede any of his or her moral and intellectual authority in order to succeed. Rather, the task of the authoritative consultant is to find ways of co-operating with the sovereignty of the seeker after knowledge to help that individual to become competent with respect to being a reader who uses this competency to develop and enhance her or his own capacity for sovereignty.
Authoritative consultants can enter into dialogue with those who are seeking to benefit from such authoritativeness relative to some given activity. However, the moment when such dialogue seeks to induce the individual to cede his or her moral authority to the group, then such dialogue becomes a tool of undue influence, as well as moral and intellectual abuse.
Proponents of some of the newer theories of leadership maintain that if a person – a leader – can control how ‘identity’ or ‘shared identity’ is defined, then, one has a tool through which one can change the world. What such proponents say in this regard may be true to some extent.
However, anyone who seeks to control how others perceive or understand the idea of essential identity constitutes an exercise in undue influence and abusive behavior when it comes to the right of individuals to have control over their own sovereignty vis-à-vis the constructive exercise of one’s moral and intellectual authority. Exploring such issues with another as a trusted equal in the process – that is, as someone who has the same rights of essential sovereignty – is not a matter of trying to control how the other comes to understand the character of that essential sovereignty, but, is, rather, an exercise in co-operative, reciprocal exploration concerning issues of mutual importance.
Based on the foregoing discussion, the following ten principles are intended as constructive axioms of leadership for anyone who is contemplating becoming a leader but who has not been successful in resisting such an inclination:
The first axiom of leadership is to resign. The rest of the axioms appearing below are contingent on someone choosing -- for whatever reason -- not to follow the first axiom.
The second axiom of leadership is to neither: seek control over others, nor to be controlled by them
The third axiom of leadership is to always operate in accordance with principles of truth, justice, compassion, integrity, friendship, humility, nobility, honesty, patience, forgiveness, and charitableness;
The fourth axiom of leadership is to realize that true competence is authoritative not authoritarian;
The fifth axiom of leadership is to understand that actually helping: the poor, the hungry, the sick, the powerless, and the oppressed, tends to be antithetical to remaining a leader.
The sixth axiom of leadership is being willing to sacrifice one’s own self-interests in order to be able to try to satisfy the essential needs of other human beings.
The seventh axiom of leadership is to seek to empower people to have control over their own lives.
The eighth axiom of leadership is to resist believing that: (a) one has the answer to other people’s problems; (2) one has the right to impose such solutions onto people against their wishes or through techniques of undue influence.
The ninth axiom of leadership is to share with people whatever resources one has control over in order to help facilitate and enable individuals to work toward solving their own problems.
The tenth axiom of leadership is to be willing to assist other would-be leaders to learn, understand, and implement the ten axioms of leadership.
Observing the foregoing ten axioms, makes one an elder, not a leader. An elder is someone who has no desire to lead people but only seeks to contribute to resolving problems in constructive ways according to one’s abilities and circumstances and without, in any way, trampling upon or undermining the ability of others to have full control over their own essential, existential capacity for moral and intellectual authority.
If one is able to satisfy the last nine axioms outlined above, but has not been successful in relation to the first axiom, this likely means that one is a recovering leadership-aholic who stands in need of further self-purification. If this is one’s existential condition, then the individual needs to learn how to stop ceding one’s moral and intellectual authority to the pathology of the ‘leadership delusion’.