We are in a crisis of leadership. This crisis of leadership is being made painfully obvious within the divisiveness of our Nation’s social fabric. We are also in a crisis of values and shared purpose. It has become painfully clear that many of us hold values and beliefs that are not associated with inclusivity, equality, and an ecocentric view of the world. In this time of toxic leadership and toxic social dynamics, it is vital we work to become very clear about what we value and what we believe in, individual, as well as collectively.
What do you value? Have you ever worked to bring your values to the surface of your consciousness? How do your values inform your own participation within the social construction of leadership? How do your values align with your actions in this world?
What are your beliefs that guide your participation within social interactions? How do your beliefs influence the way you walk through this life? Are you aware you may have implicit beliefs (not within your awareness) that are influencing your behavior and how you view the world?
Stating My Personal Values of Leadership
The following are my core values, which I have distilled out of a much larger list. I have defined the value as I see it, and then described how I envision the value being enacted within my participation in the leadership experience:
Love: The innate recognition that one is not separate from the whole of life; the embodiment of the primordial attraction (biophillia) to all of life. Love informs my need and capacities for being compassionate to others and self; this value leads me to an ethic of eco-centric care.
Integrity: The alignment of thoughts, words, and deeds; the state of internal and external congruity. Integrity gives validity to my authority, because when I act in alignment with my thinking and speech, others can participate in leadership by giving me their trust.
Challenge: The creative tension between comfort and discomfort, which is the fertile ground of growth; the ability to see life’s uncertainty and adverse situations as opportunities for growth. Challenge reveals a state of courage in leadership that welcomes the uncertainty of reality.
Balance: The desired state of energetic-being brought to social interactions; effective leadership embodies balance. Balance as a way of being allows participants to be more contextually and situationally intelligent within the social construction of leadership.
Wisdom: The state of humility where one knows what one does not know; the expert’s mind is necessarily limited, and the beginner’s mind is unlimited. Wisdom creates a state of openness to the vast sea of creativity, which is fundamental within the co-creative nature of leadership.
Stating My Beliefs of Leadership
The following are my stated beliefs of leadership: The purpose of leadership is to bring people together and to hold them together in a community of shared purpose and goal oriented action. There is no intrinsic value within leadership, because the shared purpose of the group can be effectively acted upon and result in horrific and harmful results. The personal qualities and attributes of a leader are highly variable, situational, and context specific. Leadership behavior is developed through the intersection of internal processes and external forces. A leader earns credibility from the followers who see the leader’s actions as being performed with integrity. The valuation of a leader’s effectiveness is not necessarily dependent upon the value of the leadership’s outcomes. The decision as to “who will lead?” is an outcome of a group process within the leadership moment. Authority is an emergent property within leadership.
My Emerging Philosophy of Leadership
I value love, integrity, challenge, balance, and wisdom. Leadership is a collective experience, which is the outcome of a social construction between people with a shared purpose and goals. Leadership’s effectiveness is dependent upon the quality of the group’s dynamics and intentions. Leaders are granted authority from the followers, and it is the followers who choose their true leaders. Leadership’s effectiveness requires all participants to be self-aware and engage in a practice of actively searching for their implicit biases and held assumptions. The success and failure of a leadership experience is shared by all of the participants. Effective leadership is the ability to match personal skills and talents with the contextual needs of the leadership moment.
Arriving at The Leadership of Disobedience
At what point does being obedient to authority really mean being disobedient to morality? Does legality necessarily mean morality? Is there an ultimate source of authority beyond human constructs? Is love the ultimate power? Does the more-than-human world have a legitimate authority over humanity? Has America lost its revolutionary consciousness? These types of challenging questions can become quite uncomfortable for the comfortable ears of the normative population within any society.
For this paper’s goal of reflecting upon the relationships between power, authority, influence, obedience and dis-obedience, I chose to explore some of Mahatma Gandhi’s writings on Satyagraha, Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, V. I. Lenin’s What is to be done?, and Barbara Kellerman’s Bystanders: Nazi Germany. I also used Marturano & Gosling’s (Eds.) Leadership: The Key Concepts (2008) to ground this reflective analysis in some of the related concepts and terminology. The convergence of these particular choices of the leadership literature has helped me to deepen my understandings of the necessary historical continuity of revolutionary leaders. In other words, I now better understand why Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience was influential to the leadership of Gandhi and King, and why it is vital that transformative leaders have a thorough understanding of how potentially dangerous obedience is within a society, especially when the behaviors that constitute being “obedient” have become completely taken for granted as just being the way things are, just being “reality.”
This reflective inquiry into power, authority, influence, obedience and dis-obedience has also given me deeper insights in the true complexities of leadership and how it is filled with tacit relationships far beyond the common beliefs. Being an ecological leader, I sincerely appreciate the perspective put forth by Rost who sees “authority, power and influence as relationships among people” (Marturano & Gosling, 2008, p. 87). Leadership is not a thing; leadership is an ongoing relationship. As an ecological leader who values the processual nature of all relationships it is my responsibility to be able to understand the tacit aspects of leadership that Rost notes, and especially how “[a] person’s authority, power and influence are not quantifiable” (Marturano & Gosling, 2008, p. 87). As an ecological leader who feels quite confident in my leadership, the process of exploring the tacit relationships between power, authority, influence, obedience and dis-obedience has given me a different taste of some leadership wisdom as well as some humble pie. With respect to wisdom and leadership, Harle notes, the “research indicates that wise people ‘know what they do not know’…a challenge to leaders who demonstrate a degree of honest vulnerability where omniscience is so often an unwritten prerequisite” (Marturano & Gosling, 2008, p. 180). This reflective inquiry into power, authority, influence, obedience and dis-obedience has highlighted the depths of my ignorance with respect to the complex landscape of leadership.
Power. “The subject is power…instruments of leadership” (Kellerman, 2010, p. xxvi). I appreciate how viewing “power” as an instrument of leadership helps to reframe the common meaning of the word that has become so tainted by the historical cycle of the abuse of power through the use of force. The intelligent use of language is a fundamental skill of being a leader, and there may be no better example of one’s personal power than the use of language through one’s voice. With respect to the needed understanding of the power of language for practicing effective leadership, Gandhi noted, “the need for a word to describe this unique power came to be increasingly felt…” (Kellerman, 2010, p. 238). The word was satyagraha, which has lots of meanings, but the one that embodies Gandhi’s use of power is “soul-force” to practice nonviolent civil disobedience. Gandhi utilized an internal power source that came from the highest authority; Gandhi’s internal power came from a divine source. “Satyagraha is pure soul-force. Truth is the very substance of the soul” (Kellerman, 2010, p. 238). Gandhi tapped into this “soul-force” to create an extremely powerful social network of activist who came together to revolt against the unjust ruling of the British Empire over the People of India, and did so through the overwhelming power of nonviolent civil disobedience.
It was both Gandhi’s and King’s ability to use the power of “soul-force,” of nonviolent civil disobedience, to attract and influence great numbers of followers who aided in their revolutionary causes. The real power of nonviolent civil disobedience is within the social relationships between the leader and followers, but also between the followers themselves, and as Dunn notes, “[p]ower is thus entrenched in the relationship between people rather than being an attribute of an individual” (Marturano & Gosling, 2008, p. 130). It is best to view these powerful leaders of revolutionary social movements as not so much as being filled with “individual power” but rather, as the spokes-persons for a collective source of power; Gandhi and King are labels for powerful revolutionary social movements.
Authority. I see both Gandhi and King as gaining their authority through their skillful and ethical use of power and influence. Both of these leaders did not hold “official” positions of authority that truly reflected the authority granted to them by their many followers; their authority was authentically earned from their followers, and was not the result of some token process of voting. Both Gandhi and King embodied what it means for “[t]hose with power are accorded authority by virtue of the legitimacy of the principles by which they hold power” (Marturano & Gosling, 2008, p. 7).
I see both Gandhi and King as having advanced levels of social and moral intelligence that enabled them to see what Miller is pointing to with the claim that “[a]uthority is a relationship of human beings when one or more persons are authorized to command others regarding legitimate areas of social interaction” (Marturano & Gosling, 2008, p. 87). It would appear that many of today’s “leaders” could learn a lot from both Gandhi’s and King’s examples of how to earn the authority over others through a means of legitimate social interactions. In other words, many of today’s “leaders” appear to be more concerned with the authority granted to them by the corporate special interest they serve, than by the citizen they are supposed to be representing. If this is true, which I believe it is, then why are so many of us so complacent to continue to follow these obviously corrupted “leaders”? Have the masses lost their own sense of authority?
I believe that for one to have faith in any form of authority, and commit to the path of following, one must first have a sense of internal authority; one must have some existence of a positive history with “authority.” With respect to this interpersonal historical relationship to authority, Miller notes, “[t]o find and act upon our own sense of authority it is important to have experienced sufficient and ‘good enough’ relationships of authority” (Marturano & Gosling, 2008, p. 10). When I reflect upon my experience with this world, and our current political scene, I wonder where these ‘good enough’ relationships to authority exist. I believe they are out there, but they certainly are not the one’s being highlighted through the media.
Influence. The word “influence” is another area of leadership I see as being tainted by the historical cycles of corrupt leaders. However, as Rost notes, “leadership cannot be understood without knowing what influence is and leadership cannot be practised without using influence” (Marturano & Gosling 2008, p. 86). The attention to influence within this reflective inquiry is helping me to deepen my understandings that sometimes there are subtle differences between being a leader who influences followers and a ruler who coerces others.
I also see influence as being a tacit area of leadership that does not even need to be explicitly spoken about, because influencing others is something a leader does through their voice and actions. In other words, as an ecological leader working to reconnect the masses with the natural environment, with the Earth systems our human systems have betrayed, I see my leadership as becoming more influential by making my case of systemic reconnection with Nature. As Kellerman notes, “the subject is influence… conceive of change as requiring no more than a compelling case” (2010, p. xxvi). I hear Kellerman loud and clear here, and plan on focusing my attention on clarifying my case and improving on my ability to articulate this case for systemic reconnection with Nature.
But what about influence, what does it mean to influence others? As an ecological leader, how does my voice and actions influence the thoughts and behaviors of others, of those I wish will follow my lead? I see these words from Gandhi as addressing the heart of what it means to influence others: “If someone gives us pain through ignorance, we shall win him through love…. Nonviolence is a dormant state. In the waking state, it is love. Ruled by love, the world goes on” (Kellerman, 2010, p. 238). Gandhi’s words are truly influential upon my human heart and the compassionate wisdom that is stored there.
Why was/is Gandhi so tremendously influential upon so many people’s lives? “Gandhi is so rich and complex a figure that he is a prism through which we see ourselves” (Kellerman, 2010, p. 243). This perspective on Gandhi resonates with me, and I see Gandhi embodying the powerful type of soul-force leadership our world always needs to keep society headed in the right direction. I also see Gandhi and King as both embodying what Thoreau meant when he wrote, “[c]ast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence” (Thoreau, 2000, p. 679). I can image how these powerful words of Thoreau’s could have influenced Gandhi to say, “be the change you are seeking in the world.” Thoreau, Gandhi, and King are all offering leadership that influences others to use their own personal influence to help create a just society and a better world for all.
Obedience. It is through our individual obedience that we all come together to collectively co-create our societies and the world. Writing from the jail in Birmingham, and speaking to the collective power of obedience, King rightfully warns, “[w]e should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’” (Kellerman, 2010, p. 258). As an ecological leader working towards being a part of a radical societal transformation in how we relate, I hear King’s warning about the horrific dangers that always exist within the collective obedience of a society as being a universal truth within the human condition.
Are we as a people even aware of what we are being obedient to? Does the average person take the time to question the validity of their allegiance? We are told to “vote with our dollars” but isn’t this just another form of obedience, of bound rationality, within a fundamentally unjust and unsustainable socioeconomic system? “I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man or a musket to shoot one with — the dollar is innocent — but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance” (Thoreau, 2000, p. 687). What are the greater consequences of our collective allegiance to this construction we call America? If America truly is about being respectful to all humans’ right to freedom, then how can our obedience to the current corrupt system be viewed as anything but treason?
What would American nationalism truly look like if it were actually aligned with the ideals of this nation? Gandhi’s view on governance is quite radical compared to what most might claim American nationalism is about, but I see it differently. I agree with Gandhi when he notes, “it is not only possible to live the full national life, by rendering obedience to the law of satyagraha, but that the fullness of national life is impossible without satyagraha, i.e., without a life of true religion” (Kellerman, 2010, p. 240). What I hear in Gandhi’s words here is a call to be governed by our humanity, by our collective soul-force as human beings who are loving by nature and not hating. Where is our collective obedience to our heart’s wisdom, to our humanity’s vital need for compassion?
Is our collective conscience, which exists within a highly materialistic and consumer based society, blinded to the systemic harm our unsustainable way of life is causing upon other people and the more-than-human world? “Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man’s real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this blood flowing now” (Thoreau, 2000, p. 680). Thoreau’s words penetrate my conscience to the deepest realms of my morality, and it is his attention to the tacit aspects of our collective obedience that I see as being fundamentally challenging to Modernity’s denial of its own wounded conscience that is bleeding from a self-inflicted wound of continued obedience. When does obedience to the status quo become disobedient to our shared humanity, and more importantly, when is this collusion to betray what is right hidden by what is normal?
Disobedience. What does it cost one to disobey the unjust laws and norms of a society gone drastically wrong? “It costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the State than it would to obey. I should feel as if I were worth less in that case” (Thoreau, 2000, p. 682). With these penetrating words from Thoreau, this paper’s reflection has landed in front of a very inconvenient mirror of morality, and the inconvenience is not to the Truth that Gandhi or King or any other leader who leads into a just world. Rather, this “inconvenience” I write about is directed at the very fabric of reality that modernity has constructed, and I and many others continue to bow in obedience to maintain. Thoreau’s words force us to face the continuing degradation of our collective self-worth that our collective obedience is truly costing us as a people, because we are not willing to rise up in mass disobedience to this fundamentally unjust system of humanly constructed systems. In other words, our unwillingness to collectively disobey the “laws” of Modernity is killing our self-worth. Are we truly blind to this fact, or just unwilling to face it?
I truly believe a significant element of the problem here is a fundamental error in perception with respect to viewing legality as equating with morality. I think many of us have become morally numbed by the process of normalizing laws as the means to our relational interactions, and this implies to how we collectively relate to everything in this world (e.g., to each other, to the “other”, to other nations, to other forms of life, and to the Earth). Once again, Thoreau’s words ring true, “[l]aw never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice” (Thoreau, 2000, p. 669). I hear Thoreau speaking to how we have become morally blinded by our over-use of laws as a structure for interaction; our litigious society has become litigiously cancerous. If this is true, how do we as leaders influence the masses to wake up to this moral blindness from our litigiously structured society and world?
The Leadership of Disobedience
To claim this particular inquiry into the relationship between power, authority, influence, obedience and dis-obedience has significantly impacted my leadership and me personally would be a gross understatement! I’m actually not sure I can fully articulate how much this reflection is affecting me, and doing so in the right way. I can say this though – I am truly ashamed not to have read Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience up until now. However, I will not waste time with regretting this omission nor will I dwell in the darkness of shame. Rather, I am going to use this energy to move forward into my place as a transformative leader, and to do so with the conviction that permeates Gandhi’s, King’s, and Thoreau’s writings. I realize this is a bold claim, but I do not see any other way to move forward at this point. If I can, I must.
This reflection has sparked a fire within me that I know will never go out; this fire has actually been burning for quite sometime and has lead me to this very moment. The time has come to end this reflective paper, but the process of reflecting on this particular complex topic, I feel, has just gotten fired up! For quite sometime now, and maybe even my entire life, I’ve felt myself being called to a radical place of leadership, a place that will help bring sanity back to how we collectively relate to one another and to all of creation. Now I must reflect deeply upon the following words written by King from the jail in Birmingham: “So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?” (Kellerman, 2010, p. 260). For me, there are no other questions so vital to consider at this moment, but I will offer the following suggestion from King, “[p]erhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists” (Kellerman, 2010, p. 260). What type of creative extremist am I becoming?
Kellerman, B., (2008). Followership: how followers are creating change and changing leaders. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.
Kellerman, B., (Ed.), (2010). Leadership: Essential selections on power, authority, and influence. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Marturano, A., & Gosling, J. (Eds.). (2008). Leadership: The key concepts. New York, NY: Routledge.
Thoreau, H., (2000). Walden and other writings. New York, NY: Random House.