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Thomas Jones

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Leadership

Do we need leaders?

If so, why?

If not, why not?

Assuming we do need leaders:

- what are the attributes of a good leader?

- what responsibilities do leaders have?

- what responsibilities do followers have?

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There are many kinds of leaders. We have civic leaders, political leaders, religious leaders, industrial leaders, community leaders, public intellectuals; leaders in companies, families, clubs, schools, and even leaders in criminal organizations. There are fashion leaders, coaches, trendsetters, cult leaders, and so on. All of them exert a degree of leadership.

Some of them have legal power (Hu Jintao, Barak Obama;) some have vast resources at their disposal (Bill Gates, Carlos Slim;) and some have no formal position but wield enormous moral power (i.e. Mohandas K. Gandhi, Mother Teresa.) Some "popular leaders" like Anthony Robbins and Stephen Covey exert their influence and charge for the privilege.

What sets all these leaders apart from the rest of us?

What can we learn from them, individually? And what can we learn from the fact the leadership role exists at all?

[Anything even remotely connected to leadership is allowed in this debate.]

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Closing Statement from Thomas Jones

Thanks to all of you who contributed to this conversation. I hope you enjoyed it. I did.

My last post offers a short synopsis of what we discussed.

Cheers,
Thomas

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    Dec 15 2011: There are many kinds of leaders. We have civic leaders, political leaders, religious leaders, industrial leaders, community leaders, public intellectuals; leaders in companies, families, clubs, schools, and even leaders in criminal organizations. There are fashion leaders, coaches, trendsetters, cult leaders, and so on. All of them exert a degree of leadership.

    Some of them have legal power (Hu Jintao, Barak Obama;) some have vast resources at their disposal (Bill Gates, Carlos Slim;) and some have no formal position but wield enormous moral power (i.e. Mohandas K. Gandhi, Mother Teresa.) Some "popular leaders" like Anthony Robbins and Stephen Covey exert their influence and charge for the privilege.

    What sets all these leaders apart from the rest of us?

    What can we learn from them, individually? And what can we learn from the fact the leadership role exists at all?
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      Dec 15 2011: Thomas Jones wrote “What sets all these leaders apart from the rest of us?”

      You describe a number of different kinds of leaders. A number of them rose to power through ego and ambition, which I do not view as qualities of great leadership (The great leader is he who the people say, 'We did it ourselves.' – Lao Tsu)

      I don’t believe a great leader exists “apart from the rest of us.” We have been conditioned to being told what to do. A great leader sees potential both in projects or products and the people who carry them out. I believe each of us has the capacity for leadership in the area where our gifts and passion lie. It is a matter of opening our mind to our own and other’s potential as well as the potential in our community and world.
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        Dec 18 2011: I agree that the Leader is not just a single figure. At the least, IT SHOULD NOT BE. We TEND to look at leaders as apart from us because they did amazing unusual HEROIC things. Or as the old wise guy, the guru, the master, the source...

        to a kid, it might be mission impossible...

        to an adult, it might be just someone to be admired...
        (vice versa)

        That SHOULD NOT BE how the concept is developed.

        Instead, why not pose leadership as an inherent capability to make positive changes for the self and an organization.

        On the other hand, leaders have individual differences. They can be apart from us in a certain degree. We cannot be them, nor they can be us.

        IF THAT IS SO, LEADERSHIP COMES IN DIFFERING CONTEXTS.

        People have shifted leadership concepts thru time...

        from authoritarian to democratic...

        from kings to dictators...to presidents, ministers, etc...

        In our modern times...

        where people ask a lot, but do not do a lot...

        HOW SHOULD WE THEN VIEW

        LEADESHIP?
        __________________________________________________________________________________
        Taking the lead is not just one solo dance in a bigger stage called the world.
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      Dec 15 2011: Part of the answer to your question Thomas is that a lot of people are raised to follow and some take benefit of that trait and exploit it.

      I wouldn't call Gandhi and others like him leaders, they're inspirators. They personify the ideal a lot of people admire. The same goes for fashion makers and trendsetters with that difference that the ideal is implanted with marketing first.
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        Dec 16 2011: Hi Frans,

        So you think some of us are raised to follow leaders. Would we not follow leaders, do you think, if we were not conditioned to do so?

        Julius Sephiroth thinks it is in our nature to follow leaders - it makes us feel safe (see his earlier comment.)

        Gandhi was certainly an inspiration. He was, possibly, the most influential human being (in his lifetime) to have ever lived.*

        You don't see Gandhi as a leader? How do you make the distinction?

        People did "follow" him.
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        * Chairman Mao, in his lifetime, may have influenced more people ... I haven't "checked the numbers."
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          Dec 16 2011: The distinction I made was a bit arbitrary.
          You are right that a leader is followed. The difference I thought of was between those that are authorized to lead by a third party and miss the qualities to do so and those that inspire, that go in front and point the direction.
          The form of leadership depends on conditioning and the current conditions of life.
          Germanic tribes in the past were not ruled then by their unwritten laws. The head of the family made decisions after consulting those involved. The tribe made decisions on votes.
          After the Romans destroyed those cultural structures and decimated the peoples only power ruled. Bands were formed and gangs that followed the most fearsome of the lot. This is a way to survive that you see today as well for the same reasons, think of Soweto for instance.

          So, harmonic groups of families form cultures that support the interest of all members and disharmonic, distorted or corrupted groups, form around power for safety and survival.
          The Roman empire was based on power as the Normans later on. They established the norms by which Europe was organized around 1000 AD.
          That structure is basically unchanged until now and introduced in other parts of the world. Companies and religions were formed on the same base, the power of necessity or faith and of terror and now it is questioned for it is obvious that it always leads to a minority that exploits the majority.
          To change this is very difficult for it is the only thing most people know and can think of. Revolutionaries like Mao, Stalin and others that fight the current system, end up to do the same in favor of another group. I think it can’t be changed then gradual and on a worldwide scale.

          It is a good thing that local on many places experiments are done with ways to organize groups in a way that respects all participants equally. They will become models for future change.
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        Dec 16 2011: Hi Frans,

        So about a thousand years ago we established a set of cultural "memes" predicated on the power-based models of Roman, and Frankish-Scandinavian culture. These models, being based on power, and not consensus, inform our cultures to this day and we are conditioned to accept and follow leaders.

        Is that right?

        I'm not sure I understand this: "...it can’t be changed then gradual and on a worldwide scale."

        Are you saying it has to be changed quickly, perhaps through revolution?

        I'm a bit confused because that seems to be in contradiction to this sentiment: "It is a good thing that local on many places experiments are done with ways to organize groups in a way that respects all participants equally. They will become models for future change."
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          Dec 16 2011: You have to put quickly into context. The Roman empire was built in 12 years. If you consider that quick then yes it is probably fair to say it has to be done quickly. The odd peace to the change is that it comes from war. The Arab Spring we had earlier this year is the outcropping of 10 years of silent but building protests that came from the conflicts in Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Syria and Afghanistan. The American Civil Rights movement gained it's greatest momentum 13 years after the end of WWII. Gandhi's peace movement began 9 years after the start of the Zulu War. The existing power structure must be broken, or at least damaged in order to replace the existing paradigm.
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          Dec 17 2011: I think indeed that a transition from a power based hierarchal system to a cooperative system need time for people to understand it and adapt to it. I think it has to be worldwide to prevent that a peaceful and harmonic civilization is attacked by barbarians as it was the case in the world of antiquity.

          In history many civilizations developed, in Europe, China, India, S.E. Asia even the Middle East and Egypt. Time and again they were pillaged and destroyed by wild people for loot and territory. So, sustainable development can’t leave no one out. Either kill those primitives or educate them. The first option was a Christian one as they for over centuries thought that those that weren’t baptized had no value for God and could be killed without blame. Now we may try the approach of education.

          It is time for without cooperation and worldwide coordination we endanger our own existence. For this to happen it is good that models become available that are tried out at a small scale.
        • Dec 17 2011: Kevin,

          Not to pick nits but I think your historical interpretations of timelines are somewhat arbitrary.

          the Roman Empire was not built in 12 years, it grew into a monolithic republic by the 1st century bc and was doomed by it's growing size and slow unwieldiness, a process that occured over centuries. As to the specifics of the "tossing of the die", most roman historians would say Sulla laid the first stone of empire in 69 bc when he marched on Rome, and it was not "Imperial" in name until Augustuses death in 14 A.D.

          You could say that theArab spring comes after 40 years of oppression, or 400 years of conflict, or 4000, all would be as accurate. The roots of the conflict in the Old World are the oldest roots in the world of warfare and upheavel, saying they started at any one recent point is an opinion only.

          The American civil rights movement started with the liberation of the slaves, and continues today. Rosa parks and M.L. King are benchmarks, not bookends.

          I am less informed on the Indian uprising and the movements pre WW2 history, but I have read my Kipling, and he does not represent a truely contented 19th century Indian populace.

          As to the necessity of anarchy, or overthrow, to give room for new leaders to grow, some examples to support this come to mind, such as the French Revolution, the Rise of Communism in China and Russia, among others. Conversely, the constitutional Monarchy of England has, (Excluding the New Model Army and Grand Commander) survived for over almost 1000 years, though not without some conflict, and has changed throughout that history. Likewise, there have been many instances of great reform within the Catholic church that are isolated from chaos, another millenialy aged orginization.

          While chaos and upheavel can bring on opportunities for leaders to arise, sometimes those are not the leaders we want, Napoleon, Mao, Hitler, etc.. Whereas the evolution of groups tends not to give such... unpredictable results.

          Best regards
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        Dec 17 2011: [Frans, this is a reply to Kevin's comment.]

        Hi Kevin,

        What you appear to be saying is that "new leadership" or, perhaps, "new systems" emerge after the old ones have been damaged by war.

        Do you see war or violent conflict as essential to these transitions?

        Do you think leadership is necessary?
      • Dec 17 2011: Frans,
        I am afraid I must resp[ectfully diagree concerning Ghandi, as Thomas pointed out, people did follow him.

        In 1930 Ghandi marched to the Sea in protest against a Salt tax levied by the British in 1882. Without request tens of thousands followed him, and many died to do so at the hands of the British. These inividuals are the "third party."

        As to the defining of European laedership methodologies in Norman times, I am not sure I follow your argument. I agree that something like modern European borders existed after Charlemange ,(9 c.) though they were to go through centuries of change berfore we would recognize them again. As to leadership, only the church has maintained any consistency there, and perhaps only in name, as the christianity of today would be blasphemous to the christendom of the time.

        All European governments of 1000 A.D were ablolute autocratic aristocracies. Todays Europe has no such leaders, the last died in Russia in 1917. Leaders of the late dark ages were defined by birth or warfare, neither defines western leadership today, ( I whistle distractedly as I pass the Bush residence). In Fact only three kingdoms remain, all of them contitutional monarchies, which did not exist circa 1000, and had not since classical Greece.

        If, as I might read your post, leadership is defined by power, I find this a machiavellian argument, difficult to dispute in real-polotik. The contention I have here is the idea of "consent of the governed" and Rousseau's " Socail contract" both rooted in pre-modern european political thought. Fascism was based on the leadership of power, and it didn't work so well on the modern industrial stage. Mousollini comes to mind.

        Today's form of westen leadership may well be mired in power plays, glad-handing, sound bits, and media bytes, but it is also the most egalitarian method yet devised for large industrial populations, which we are. There is a black man relaxing in the oval office... pretty telling evidence.

        Best Regards
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          Dec 17 2011: Ian,
          To tell European history in a few lines wasn't my intent and impossible.
          Charlemagne the Great played a decisive role to force Christianity upon all peoples. William the Conqueror had his own way of dealing with things. He made use of the church and made the pope to his puppet.
          He ruled England and Normandy from castles and strongholds occupied by his Norman kin and they spread over Europe. Their descendents started the crusades for more land and wealth, they built cathedrals to proclaim their glory and might.
          http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/sceptred_isle/page/9.shtml?question=9

          Of course there is much more to say but my point was that they lay the basics we lived by over centuries. The French Revolution, Fascism, Nazism, Communism are all flawed attempts to break the structures by which a small elite could exploit the masses. Democracy is cosmetics to that same system were the power is largely passed on into businesses where the capital flows.
          As King Leopold of Belgium first exploited the Congo as his property for gold, diamonds and rubber, nowadays rich companies are doing the same for minerals, etc. They don’t chop off the legs of unwilling people anymore but found ways to let them slaughter each other.

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