Thursday 8 December 2022

Explaining-away Leadership (the bureaucratic mind at work...)

It has been interesting to sample the journalistic and professional commentary about Ben Stokes's captaincy leadership of the England Test Match cricket team, about which I recently wrote as being a current example of a great leader. 

In all examples I have seen; the analysis has explained Stokes's success in terms of the application a new set of rules or principles - probably devised from the previous experience of the coach McCullum, when he was captain of New Zealand. 

In other words; Stokes is envisaged as implementing something akin to bullet points from a managerial strategy document! 

At the end of the day, the leader is envisaged as a kind of front-man or actor; whose talent is to be a plausible and inspiring advocate of a prior blueprint for successful (or, at least entertaining) cricket. 

But this is not to explain leadership - but to explain-it-away

The origin of leadership is - in these analyses - understood as being located outside of the leader, elsewhere from the leader himself.

This is arguing from implicit (mostly unconscious) assumptions that (in effect) bureaucracy is the true reality, and the source of social functionality; and 'leaders' are just a specialized group of functionaries - whose essence is to perform a designated role.   

I am aware that this argument is analogous to Max Weber's division of authority between charismatic, legal (i.e bureaucratic) and traditional. But the concept of 'authority' is not identical with leadership

What I am saying is very simple. When there is real leadership; it primarily comes-from the leader, is located in the leader.

And when, secondarily the effects of leadership are analyzed into components, rules, principles, objectives etc - then we are not talking about leadership - but instead something more like 'authority'.    

Leadership is 'given', but authority can be manufactured (eg. by the power to reward or sanction). 

Leadership is originative, generative, creative... But authority need not be; and often is the opposite!

Leadership is therefore akin to creative genius - but not identical with it; since the basis is different. 

Creative genius requires high intelligence and a long-term, inwardly-motivated 'endogenous' personality the ability to work at some particular thing for long periods of intense and with sustained focus... 

But great leaders (such as Stokes) need not be especially intelligent (he isn't), and are often exceptionally simple in terms of explicit long-term strategy; and instinctive, here-and-now responsive, in terms of tactics. 

Leadership is relational - it happens in a social context; while genius is focused on the transcendentals: truth, beauty, virtue. 

I therefore regard Leadership as a category of its own, and not a subdivision of other systems or attributes. 

Leadership is found in individual persons, or perhaps (with less stability) a duo - but never in committees or other groups, never as part of a system. 

And leadership (again like creative genius) can accomplish things that cannot otherwise be achieved.  

I repeat, cannot otherwise be achieved. 

Cannot Means Can-not!

Therefore without leadership, options are limited and circumscribed; when compared with what may be possible when leadership is a factor.


No Longer Reading said...

"At the end of the day, the leader is envisaged as a kind of front-man or actor; whose talent is to be a plausible and inspiring advocate of a prior blueprint for successful (or, at least entertaining) cricket. "

That makes sense. I think this is what people now think a leader is supposed to be.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NLR - "think this is what people now think a leader is supposed to be."

It is, indeed, what several national "leaders" are, and have been for the past few decades (when they are not the rotten shells of corrupt imbeciles, or cruel psychopaths).

There are no *real* leaders of nations in The West, and ever-fewer anywhere. That is why it is so refreshing to meet one in sports.

Interestingly, at least a couple of the great leaders among cricket captains afterwards went into politics with (apparently, though I don't really know) some success: Imran Khan (Pakistan) is one, Arjuna Ranatunga (Sri Lanka) another - both, of course, in the East.

Great leaders are rare, and most are men; but a few are women - in Britain there was Queen Elizabeth I, and more recently Margaret Thatcher. Boudicca and Queen Matilda may have been others.

It should be obvious that being a great leader does not entail being good, or even on the right side.

Boudicca's rebellion was understandable, being against invaders obeying the genuine tyranny of Nero; but in its effect was horrifically destructive and murderous.

She may have killed/ led to the death of something like 10% of the English population (c80-100,000? - including almost the entire populations of St Albans, Colchester and London) in a few weeks or months; then perhaps the same or more when her army/ mob was defeated.

(Never a good idea to rebel against the Romans of that era - unless you could win, permanently.)

Incredible slaughter - whatever the exact numbers.

Jack said...

This is why football fans have been complaining for the last several years about the England team manager, Gareth Southgate — he's a bureaucratic manager, not a leader. I think a strong aspect of leadership is what they called in the 19th century 'animal magnetism', which was associated with hypnotism. Great leaders have a magnetic, hypnotising effect on their followers. I think there's a basis for it in what Steiner calls the etheric body. In Zhuangzi this etheric, magnetic power is described as 'Sincerity':

The stranger said, "By `the Truth' I mean purity and sincerity in their highest degree. He who lacks purity and sincerity cannot move others. Therefore he who forces himself to lament, though he may sound sad, will awaken no grief. He who forces himself to be angry, though he may sound fierce, will arouse no awe. And he who forces himself to be affectionate, though he may smile, will create no air of harmony. True sadness need make no sound to awaken grief; true anger need not show itself to arouse awe; true affection need not smile to create harmony. When a man has the Truth within himself, his spirit may move among external things. That is why the Truth is to be prized!
"I was scared."

"Why were you scared?"

"I stopped to eat at ten soup stalls along the way, and at five of them they served me soup ahead of everybody else!"

"What was so scary about that?" said Po-hun Wu-jen.

"If you can't dispel the sincerity inside you, it oozes out of the body and forms a radiance that, once outside, overpowers men's minds and makes them careless of how they treat their own superiors and old people. And it's from this kind of confusion that trouble comes. The soup sellers have nothing but their broths to peddle and their margin of gain can't be very large. If people with such skimpy profits and so little power still treat me like this, then what would it be like with the ruler of Ch'i, the lord of a state of ten thousand chariots? Body wearied by the burden of such a state, wisdom exhausted in its administration, he would want to shift his affairs onto me and make me work out some solution - that was what scared me!"

Bruce Charlton said...

@Igude - Too specific and topical for this blog.

Plus, you are about as wrong as it is humanly possible to be - for reasons explained in the articles. If ever there was a 100%-Establishment-manufactured, actor-puppet, fake-leader - your example is that person.

Surely you must recognize that in your heart? Consider the *provenance* of your belief - that alone should suffice.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ap - This thread is not supposed to be an opportunity for suggesting putative real leaders!

But an important tool for discrimination is that real leaders are anti-entropic (i.e. creative), and usually best discerned by their ability to reverse an adverse trend.

Figureheads who preside over increased rates of destruction are not leaders; neither are those who ride powerful waves.

Nor is successful self-enrichment or the gaining of fame evidence of a real leader.