When most people talk of leadership what they are really speaking to is the highest levels in the management hierarchy. They are talking about the legitimate authority positions in an organization. They speak of leadership as if it was a noun, a name we attribute to a person or position.
As evidence of this, look at a few of the statements we’ve all likely heard:
- I am working hard to attain a leadership position
- My (career) goal is to move up to a leadership position
- Our leadership is pleased with what is happening
- What’s the point of view of the leadership on this?
- What does the leadership say about that?
What is being referred to, if not the highest rung on the management hierarchy?
Conserving the System
So who are the people who move up to the higher rungs on the hierarchy? Are they the ones whose value orientation aligns with that of the system or are they the ones whose value orientation brings them to challenge the way things are? Are they the ones who speak out against the errors, afflictions and harms produced by the system with the intent of improvement, of leading change to make things better, or are they the ones whose intent is to maintain and further the system as it is?
The system’s culture presents and reinforces the values and behavioral norms so that people of that system tacitly learn what’s important, what to care about and how to behave. Moreover the system chooses those who will do whatever it takes to ensure the system’s continuance—hence the inertia of culture is formidable. Consequently the value orientation of those at the top of the hierarchy is the value orientation of the system—they don’t get there otherwise. In short, those who learn best what the system requires are those who will do best (for the system). In other words, the system develops (or more accurately trains) its leaders.
In summary, because we tend to do what we value, what one values says a lot about how one carries on in life. That is to say we participate in the creation and continuation of our reality by enacting the values and beliefs we hold in mind. Moreover within a society of people, although there is variation person to person, there emerges a generally accepted way-of-being-in-the-world, a generally shared or common pattern of behavior across individuals that is informed by what is valued and supported by the system. Different value orientations produce different cultures and thus different realities.
Leadership in a Capitalist System Value Orientation
The capitalist system is a mechanistic worldview system wherein value is material value , most often measured by profit. Further the system rests upon the belief that the relationship between humankind and Nature is one of mastery over Nature. So people are to exploit each and every (living) thing in the world in pursuit of their aim. Hence one is to do with Nature whatever is necessary toward maximizing the satisfaction of ones’ material self-interest in the very near term. For organizations maximizing material self-interest means profit maximization and for the government of a nation it means seeking (economic) dominance.
Then what concern is there for the future? The future is an upward linear extrapolation from the present: Unlimited growth, ever increasing gain. The future is nothing more and nothing less than an opportunity for exercising mastery over Nature and the world; it is an opportunity for more material growth, for getting and having more. For example, a future of shrunken polar ice cap areas due to global warming does not conjure up concern for the viability of life on this planet but rather the opportunity to do something that heretofore was not feasible, to extract and capitalize on the oil that once was under the polar ice.
Business organizations, the publically traded corporations in particular, are all about maximizing shareholder value. Accordingly, when material gain is everything, executive managers (a.k.a. the leadership) in these organizations do whatever it takes to accomplish this for the organization’s major shareholders, and of course for their own material gain.
The same holds for those holding upper level positions in government. What’s most important is furthering wealth accumulation and dominance, which is intertwined with corporate and individual material gain of those in leadership positions. Allow me to repeat myself: The system chooses those to occupy positions of leadership who will do whatever it takes to ensure the system’s continuance. Consequently the value orientation of those at the top of the hierarchy is the value orientation of the system—they don’t get there otherwise. Those holding positions at the top of the hierarchy are not ones who challenge the system but rather ones complying with and conforming to the values of the system. It follows, that captains of industry and the elected government officials they’ve funded are complicit in the exploitation of life itself.
Leadership informed by a mechanistic worldview and its’ associated value orientations places focus primarily if not solely on the material aspects of life—so much so that the need for material gain becomes an addiction. Since those who are addicted will do whatever it takes to satisfy their insatiable need, they align quite well with a system bent on the pursuit of unlimited wealth accumulation.
Further, leaders in the organization assume they not only have the authority but that they have the right to exercise power over people in service to the profit maximizing intent of the organization as well as themselves. This sense of right to profit is evident in trade policies—which they participate in formulating—such as the TPPA whereby corporations given the ability to sue a government (municipal, state or national) when they believe that government’s laws (e.g. minimum wage laws, environmental laws, buy domestic policies etc) infringe upon the corporation’s right to maximum profit —yes a company getting its profit fix supersedes life itself.
In summary, the power in positions of authority is an external power in the hands of a few and leveraged by an artificially created scarcity. It is a power-over others that is not and cannot be shared. Accordingly managing or leading tends to rely on the legitimate authority afforded by ones’ position in the hierarchy in exercising control; hence the common notion that leadership is positional which leads to a tainted and unhealthful understanding and practice of leadership. Just as tainted food is detrimental to our health, tainted leadership is detrimental to our wellbeing.
Affect Upon Our Humanness
In regards to our well being, as human beings we have both deficit needs and (human) development needs and one must not supplant one by the other if we are to live as human beings. Both are essential.
Deficit needs are those lower-level needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—such as, food, shelter, safety, belongingness, respect, esteem—which are generally satisfied by or with others and which if unsatisfied for any length of time brings about an unhealthy state or illness. Development needs, on the other hand, are the higher level needs—such as self-initiation, self-actualization or self-realization—that reflect the inherent potential that lies within each of us as human beings.
Making the satisfaction of peoples’ deficit needs conditional and contingent on them meeting material goals —as if such need satisfaction is scarce and thus always in question—keeps people focused on their deficit needs thus supplanting their human development needs. With the satisfaction of their deficit needs in question they can’t help but to be fearful that their basic needs may not be met. It is therefore not surprising to see people exploited and acted upon through various stimulus-response methods, using fear as the way of getting them to re-act as desired. Under these conditions people are inhibited from the opportunity to fully develop as human beings. Fear-based methods are in essence a process for stunting the human development of people.
Unless your mind is closed and unreflective, it should be at least clear if not obvious that the capitalist’s worldview and associated value orientation are not in harmony with the development of our humanness, let alone the viability of human life. From its very conception the intent was for the many to labor in service to the material gain of a few. Unaware of the fact that in this system wealth flows upward those who labor for a living were led to believe in the false promise that they too would materially benefit if they were productive—after all it is the economMe, Of course the practice of capitalism has led a relative few to accumulate tremendous wealth but it is at a great cost to the remaining many. “Using a body-builder as metaphor, it developed economic muscle by mistreating its constituent parts (people) through the use of steroids (desire to pursue material self-interest). As a consequence it has diminished its health in the pursuit of material growth and the amassing of wealth” (Intent of Business, p 116).
“Given that economic activity—the conduct of business—is a material process as well as a human process, it not only involves the accumulation of wealth through the production of goods and services, it also circumscribes the rules of human action and interaction” (p 113). In light of this, business practice should not only align with life itself but its’ intent should be to facilitate people’s development as human beings, otherwise the system’s circumscription would limit rather than liberate life’s potential.
Living Systems Value Orientation
However it need not be this way! Contrary to what you often hear, there is an alternative. If we enact, that is act consistent with, a different worldview and value orientation our reality will be different. Moreover since the system produces its leaders, one with a different value orientation and worldview would produce very different leadership experiences, very different life experiences.
What if instead of mastery over Nature being how we relate to the natural environment we sought to be in harmony with Nature, what would be our experienced reality? What if we assumed the goal of our activities in life was to develop our humanness—to become more of what we potentially are—and not all about getting and spending, what would be our experienced reality? What if we viewed the future as the opportunity to learn anew for the betterment of all, what would be our experienced reality?
What if we understood work as the means to this differently experienced reality, the activities in life would be life enhancing not exploitative of life. Our work would cease to be meaningless and our every day work-life would therefore have meaning far beyond the pay we get for our labor. Our activities would support us being and becoming toward developing our humanness—individually and collectively—rather than solely as cogs in an economic machine producing increasing levels of wealth for major shareholders. That is to say, “although we each survive by exchanging goods and services—hence the need for business and a system of economics—we each only truly live by engaging in meaningful activities and interacting with each other in meaningful ways that contributes to our individual and collective development as human beings” (Intent of Business, p 17). Accordingly the intent of business would be markedly different.
What kind of people would this system provide as leaders? We would do well before answering this question to consider a quote from Plato the measure of a man is what he does with power.
Peering through the lens of this alternative worldview and value orientation our understanding of leadership changes. No longer would it be synonymous with a position in the hierarchy. It would no longer be the name given to the person driving the organization, exercising authority to control the actions of others for the purpose of maximizing profit to the organization and its management.
We would see the foundational requirement of a leader is the development of ones’ self as a person—of ones’ personhood, ones’ authenticity. We would see that growing ones’ career toward a top position in the hierarchy is not the way of leadership. After all, a career is just an abstract idea but life is concrete reality and so to supplant life with an idea would be unhealthy and thus irrational.
Authentic people provide untainted leadership. Such people are open-minded—open to the possibilities—and aren’t attached to the way things are, to their position, to their ideas, to their opinions, to a point of view and to past success. Being a model of critical and reflective thinking they provide untainted leadership that encourages inquiry and enables creativity to emerge from others. As exemplars of higher-level thinking and being, their untainted leadership enables the creative evolution of ideas and the development of people—they strive to facilitate human productivity.
Striving to develop humanly productive relationships, as opposed to solely focusing on materially productive transactions, necessitates making deep (core to core) human connections with others. Through such productive relationships the space—physical and psychological—for human potential to unfold can be created for everyone. Thus the experience of untainted leadership develops a culture wherein trust, honesty and collaboration (by partnering and working with others) are the norm. Leveraging abundance not scarcity, untainted leadership ensures the satisfaction of deficit needs and facilitates collective efforts toward (human) development needs satisfaction. In essence, untainted leadership is an enlivening and enabling act of caring whereas tainted leadership is a devitalizing act of exploitation and force.
Leadership is about our shared humanity in the relationships we forge. Being humanly productive versus solely materially productive in and through our relationships will make all the difference in the world toward furthering our wellbeing, as well as our viability.