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January 19, 2008


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Tracy Gary and Margarey Wheatley offer inclusive visions, yet is not the call for "a leader" already an incipient betrayal of those visions?

With all respect, it might be terms like "leader" that need to be retired as they seem invincibly tied to schemes of power and masses and states and robotic mechanisms of adulation, for starters.

If you'll pardon the selfref, the other day I tried suggesting something that seems relevant to this thought of theirs, and I couldn't find a word. Fumbling with the inelegant "person who listens," ie, who listens to the voice that we do not have, or that is inaudible.

But I do have a question vis a vis their thought: given the openness to diversity, is this openness agnostic to locality? How to reconcile openness with the reality that most local communities really don't give a shit about the folks 40 miles down the road?


Cohesive community comes to voice, maybe through it pastor who speaks not only to the congregation, but for it, or through the poet whose words seem to express our most secret thoughts. But cohesive community can also rally around a demagogue, or it can become a leaderless mob seeking a scapegoat to confirm its own unity. Tracy is actually coming from very specific communities that have a history together, particularly the woman's movement. She is the image of the leader who listens to the diverse voices of a community. An inspirational speaker by trade, her talks are built around worksheets and open discussion. She would find your points congenial, Tom, not a correction, but an amplification. The leader holds the talking stick in circle, but passes it, so we are leaders in turn.

Jeff Trexler

I agree that today we far too often associate leadership with control. Avoiding that was one reason why Western philosophers & political types a couple hundred gravitated toward such words as governor and president. The leader was not telling people what to do, but guiding interaction among groups and individuals toward constructive outcomes.

Unfortunately, the sort of people who aspire to lead do not tend to share such a limited notion of leadership.


Interesting, Jeff. "I am the Presider," now if Bush had said that, we could agree with him.


You can theorize about what makes a leader, but it's all after the fact. If you aim to be a leader that probably diminishes your chances. Leadership is probably an accident that happens to people. The real issue is how to sustain those wonderful accidents.


You have to keep the distinction between climbing the status hierarchy and true leadership clear in your mind to understand. The former always seemed both too political and deadly boring to me, and as soon as I started investigating the topic I found that the best writers talked of servant leadership. Leading by listening and such is great too, and I have tried to understand the dynamics of leadership in the Open Source movement. I am still thinking about it and gathering observations.

In a collaborative enterprise, everyone involved knows who is producing the most and who is working hardest, not necessarily the same subsets. No one has time for a non-contributor and hostility for a negative contributor. In fact every non-contributor is really negative because it takes time and attention from those who are contributing.

I say that if the production and reproduction of true leadership is left to be an accident, then we are sunk. We know what it is when we see it, even if there is no complete description of what it takes and how it looks.

Organic leadership structured from the bottom up and based on participation, genius (gifts) and skills (experience), and it may take hierarchical forms. When it does, those forms are structural, part of the design and function of larger units of production.

When the power structure, the top down leadership, fight with the organic structure of their workforce, the results will be suboptimal. Their's an organization that surveys the best companies to work for, and a paper that demonstrates that the best companies to work for are the most profitable in the long run.

Of course that logic breaks down when a kleptocratic class is intent on carrying off and sequestering wealth like a dragon collecting shinny things. Crime does pay if you have the political system in your pocket, an array of think tank thinkers to justify it and legislatures to implement sophistries that legalize theft for their class. Do we then declare the King of the Knaves the Emporer?

Like I said, I don't have all the answers, just some working theories. The above does suggest a bifurcation of the topic, one branch about the development of organic leadership and organic processes and institutions of traditional knowledge as they have developed historically and strengthening their presence in the world. In my view this branch is not well explored and understood by the social sciences, but there is a small and growing group of people starting to do bold experiments. I think it would help to identify this as a new domain of academic investigation (I've met a couple of academy people who want to do just that. I think one called it "Community Informatics", there may be several related disciplines.) so that it could attract more collaborators in and out of traditional organizations and institutions.

The other track is the battle for democracy against the forces of corruption and sloth. In this battle, the symbolic leaders will be targeted, so it will need internal support systems to defend itself against the forces of tyranny. This track will be a lot harder to follow unless you are tuned into the movements. Much of the action will happen far from public view. Some of it will be hidden in plain site.


hearcomes, people who understand what true leadership is do not pursue it, it pursues them if they are chosen. The leader of the movement is a target. Only a Fool or a Hero will stand in the face of a fierce battle to lead a charge that will almost certainly fail only because it may help his fellow who follow behind to survive the war and prosper in the peace that should follow. The Hero may always and only be a Fool who is lucky enough to survive a couple of battles and create fodder for the storytellers before sealing her Fate.


Gerry writes of the kleptocratic class,

Crime does pay if you have the political system in your pocket, an array of think tank thinkers to justify it and legislatures to implement sophistries that legalize theft for their class. Do we then declare the King of the Knaves the Emperor?

To which we think fit to respond with the Roman saying, "The law is harsh, but it is the law." In other words, "Get over it." The National Guard at Kent State were bad enough. Imagine if it had been Blackwater. Capitalism is Freedom. Terrorists hate us for our Freedom. Sounds like some malcontents at home do too. A real leader has the stomach to do what needs to be done to preserve Freedom. As in Hobbes, only a strong King can keep the peace, whether at home or abroad. Economic Freedom leads to vast differences in wealth, which leads to the envy of the loser-class. Class warfare may result. Ordered Liberty requires the repeal of civil liberties, bit by bit, lest things get out of hand. One revolution in America is enough. Dynastic Wealth will produce over time Aristocrats to rival George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In working with wealthy families to perpetuate their dynasties, I am helping to create a small but illustrious class of virtuous and magnanimous citizens who will rule the world for 1,000 years. That is why I wish they would stop going to business school and instead go on in Classics. They can delegate the management of Empire, to tacticians like Holden and Sean, but without a liberal arts background, like Jeff Trexler's, they will lack the vision to lead it.


I see your point, Phil, you are absolutely right. Maybe we need to pool our resources and hire Jeff out from under them.

Brian Solomon

As Director of an Asian branch of a Northern NGO, seeking to provide life-affirming, future-oriented leadership, I am currently going through an internal battle; Life-Affirming vs. traditional, conventional, Western style organisational management; Asian vs. Northern. How do I continue to provide leadership according to the life-affirming, future-oriented principles I believe in when our mother organisation in the North is still run very strongly according to common principles that have been applied in the North/West for so long, managed sometimes more as a response to mistakes of the past......rather than focussed on that which is desired and possible in the future? Anyone out there, with similar experiences


Brian, if you can catch the attention of the commenter here who goes by "JJ," he would be one good person to ask.

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