Monday, 19 August 2013

Leaders - we could do without them, part 1

Many months ago, I and probably quite a few people in my class sent their entries on leadership to two HR representatives in a reputable company. Nothing was ever heard of from those two again, although they had promised an iPad to whoever wrote the best entry! Well, so much for promises in this era. Anyway, regardless of whether or not they've appropriated my words in their company publications, I am going to republish it. I'm sick of hearing about 'leadership' and 'leaders' in the view of what's going in on Egypt and Greece, as well as closer home.

Plato said that the best leaders were those who did not want to be leaders. My position is that there should be none. The cultural notion of a leader implicitly assumes that only leaders may lead and others meekly, unthinkingly, follow as dispensable objects of his/her power. Thus, leaders, whether self-appointed or designated, are antithetical to leadership, which is a reciprocal relationship between two or more human beings. Anyone may lead and anyone may be led, but no one may be a leader.

The relation between leader and follower takes on a power relationship between dominant and inferior individuals. The dominance of the leading individual may be temporary, or it may be institutionalized into the appearance of permanence. Assuming that all individuals are leaders(whether over themselves or others) is to assume that all are simultaneously be leader and follower, like Schodinger’s Cat (simultaneously alive and dead) . However, a wily child can (mis)lead a king, and a marketing intern, via presentation, can lead a CEO into changing his course of action. In both instances, the individual at the top of the social hierarchy is being led by the one at the bottom. Their dominant power relationship is fleeting, even when reversed: the CEO(or anyone else) can rationally claim to be a ‘leader’ only in the act of leading another, not in and of him/herself.

We need to recognize the truth about leadership being a transient, temporary, reciprocal relationship between individuals. Every individual in an organization must understand that they are linked in an “inextricable web of mutuality” in which they constantly lead and are led by other, fellow human beings and not impersonal objects. Once individuals understand this, they may more appropriately assert their leadership. Perhaps with wisdom and a little iconoclasm, we shall have enough of leadership. The institutionalized leader, a public disaster if there ever was one, is still going about the world. We need to get rid of this institution if we are to have a better future.

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