On Leaders, Followers, and Power

Learnings of a Student

A women, and a child, in the woods.
“Shame For Two” by ornge.fog is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Leaders emerge in ambiguity. When oblivion swallows, leaders are the ones who take action. They are crucial to a social species, especially a species as consequential as us homo sapiens. Thus, it is important to understand leadership. Many people study leadership by studying leaders; however, to be a great leader one needs to study the followers. Great leaders are great because their followers believe they are great. Furthermore, no leader is an expert in every situation; thus, no leader can tackle every type of ambiguity. Therefore, no leader is permanent and every leader is situational. There are no leaders, people follow. People follow the person who best understands the current ambiguity, or is best equipped to handle it, and can communicate their understanding to the group. People continue to follow that person until they fail to help the group through a time of ambiguity. Notice the word help. Help is the main role of a leader. A leader helps their group navigate risk and the unknown.

Ultimately, the question becomes how does a leader extend the period of their leadership. The first step is to study and understand the group which they want to lead. Understand the followers, and help them achieve their full potential in every situation. A person will initially follow another naturally, an ambitious leader then must cultivate that follower. They must pay the most attention to their first follower, they have to help them in every way. They must teach them the ideas, and wisdom, needed to navigate the ambiguous situation — think of a parent raising a child, the parent is the leader, the child is the follower. That follower will then be a subordinate leader who, along with the initial leader, will attract another person. The leader, and the first follower, must spend significant time cultivating that follower as well. An effective leader will turn all of their followers into leaders in their own right, and they will confidently delegate power to them. Granted, a subordinate leader must be competent and responsible enough with that power for it to truly have the desired effect on the group and its growth. Thus, the leader must insure and impart all the understanding needed to navigate ambiguity to the initial following.

As followers become into subordinate leaders, they will hold power which previously only existed in one person. Thus, before delegating power or even vesting power in ones own self, it is important to understand what is power. Power is the ability to extend or restrict someone’s options. Violence is the use of force to restrict someone’s options. Therefore, violence is at least half of power. When someone builds a fence around their yard, they restrict access to that space. They have power over that space. Furthermore, since they are restricting that space by the force of an object — in this case a fence — they are effectively using violence. A clarification, this definition of Violence is not the legal definition but a philosophical definition.

Leaders must engage with one another, and with subordinate leaders. This interaction is politics. Politics by its very nature is intertwined with violence. Governments use policing and the penal system to restrict crime, this is violence used to insure basic security and order in society. Countries have borders, with guards, fences, walls, and check points; this is the use of violence to restrict entry and exit from a country’s borders. Countries have armies to deter invasions and rebellions; thus, violence is used once again, even if said army is not currently engaged, it is the deterrence there mere existence provides. When a manager schedules a shift to start at a certain time, or an office meeting is booked to start at a certain time, that is restriction by force of the schedule; thus, it is the use of violence.

Therefore, it is essential for anyone with ambitions to lead to fully understand power and violence. As a leader you will have power to extend or restrict someone’s options, depending on the situation. As a leader you will have to use force to restrict someone’s options, at some point, even if you try to avoid it as much as possible; thus, as a leader you will have to engage in violence. Even anarchism, the philosophy and practice of resisting and uprooting power and violence uses both of them at some point during praxis. All leaders hold power, all leaders practice violence, all leaders delegate power and violence, all leaders navigate ambiguity. When a leader cannot navigate ambiguity, or delegate and lead someone who can, they are no longer a leader. However, this does not mean relegation. Leadership is situation by its very nature. A successful group will have a leader with the vision to see through ambiguity and subordinate leaders delegated with power and violence to help the following navigate all types of ambiguity to achieve the vision. The group fails when the original vision changes. A new vision means a new group with a new leader, even if the person remains the same that person has changed to some extent; therefore, it is a new leader and the following changed with the leader and the vision.

These are the understandings developed through my learnings as a student. Please feel free to critique them, it will benefit not just me but others as well.

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