The assumption of the need for leadership is our inquiry. The prevailing leadership mindset is fundamentally rooted in power, control, and authority over others. The companion drivers utilized to preserve and enforce retention of this power are fear, scarcity, competition, and zero-sum games.
This concept lies at the heart of the way businesses havebeen operated and grown from the dawn of the industrial revolution. The historical and ancient antecedent roots in fact trace all the way back to tribal leaders in prehistoric times, through to the emergence of dynastic rulers, and ruling classes from the earliest appearance of larger human settlements and societies’ emergence.
Intrinsic to the meme of leadership, in its earliest manifestation, is the idea that the leader embodied the greatest power and physical capacity to triumph over all others in the group or tribe. The evolution of brute force to metaphoric power and control over the subordinated majority comprising organizations has brought us to today’s profit-driven version of human productivity, where employees are commoditized and reduced to units of labor, a class of “resource” applied within the chain of production. What has been sustained is this being rooted in fear.
We note the emergence of many aspirationally more evolved variations on the “leadership” meme: servant leadership, self-leadership, conscious leadership, values-based leadership, and leaderless structures, etc. purporting to “wash” the more negative and toxic dimensions of the original Tayloresque vision.
However, all ultimately remain rooted in the memetic “leadership” center of gravity, which solely exists in service to supporting the core belief that there are others who need to be led.
The concept of “self-leadership” perfectly illustrates the intrinsic irony. Inherently, even in the context of “self” leadership, it requires a projected disaggregation of the individual into two distinct beings: the one who is leading, and the one who then follows.
Why is it not sufficient for this same individual to just be, fully connected, empowered, and in touch with their own agency, voice, self-awareness, capacities, and consciousness; as an entitled and committed contributor to the collective endeavor, without the need for direction by an imposed internal or external “other?”
The fundamental argument for the need for leadership is that the answer to the above question is because those to be led are presumptively incapable. They are not capable of working things out with each other, and they lack the intrinsic capacity to do so when left up to their own devices.
If that is the belief of those in authority, then the leadership is guaranteed to create a reality that affirms that belief, effectively institutionalizing the incapacitation of all in subordinate positions through separation and disaggregation. This becomes a self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating prophecy.
A correlative question in this context is:
What is required to enable those conditioned to oppression and submission, experiencing relentless instability and disempowerment, to reawaken and reconnect with their individual power, creativity, and agency in service to maximizing the realization of their fullest potential generative capacity and contribution?
In order to achieve the above, both those in leadership positions and those comprising the “led” class must each arrive at a place of readiness to enable transformation from a power-over-profit-fear-centered dynamic to a distributed, empowered, human-centered-and-connected living organizational culture.
We see the drivers for this kind of transformation in evidence in many large organizations. These drivers are different as and between the leaders and the led within these organizations.
The drivers for leaders are based upon the magnitude of change and challenge with which they are confronted, requiring tremendous adaptation and alacrity in decision making, required speed of communication, and responsiveness to changing conditions.
None of these attributes are possible when stuck within inflexible bureaucratic silos, maladapted to the emergent digitally-driven lightspeed evolving world and markets of today. The C-Suite of today is substantially at a loss for how to meet these challenges, resorting to reflexive revolving C-level doors, endless recurring reorganizations, all amidst escalating deterioration of employee engagement.
Compounding the above is a tendency to resort to “solutions-in-a-box” from the solution providers du jour, without true long-term prioritization and resource allocation. This is accompanied by a complementary pressure to perform, measured in growth-centric agendas, and myopically focused on next quarter results.
Upon achievement of this Tayloresque ideal, the operating environment and management of today’s multinational organizations are dehumanized, and antagonistic to any human expression of distress, or acknowledgment of the need to heal the human experiential misery borne by the employees.
For the led, the drivers are found in the fundamental alienation of the embodied emotional and spiritual self from their role, title, and position within the hierarchy. In fact, any expression of feelings, stress, discontent, or personal challenge is explicitly and tacitly declared as inappropriate and unwelcome.
This prohibition is so thoroughly imprinted upon the employee population, such that it is self-enforcing as, by, and between employees, with fear of advantage to or attack from others, so as to prevent any and all possibility of sharing or displays of trust of any kind.
Evidence of the level of disengagement abounds and is reflected in the decreased employee retention and the emergence of websites where employees post negative employer reviews. Most of these reviews portray significant dysfunction and fundamental failures of effective leadership and institutional awareness of employee discontent.
Motivational earmarks of Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Y job seekers are no longer centered on finding a 1950s-style permanent professional home, with 20-year retirement goals, and progressive bonus, vesting, and vacation benefits.
These generations are centrally interested in finding their work to be of value, in service to a higher purpose, bringing good things to the world, being fairly compensated and treated, with working conditions that enable the individual realization of maximum generative potential, unconstrained by time clocks, in-office presence, and other industrial-era conventions. For these generations, the employer must prove worthy of their time and continued service every day, or risk their moving on to greener pastures.