Progressives need to examine our leadership culture
The Desperate Need for CoCreative Power
I have written several academic papers about the global crisis of leadership and the emergence of a new culture of leadership, one where we develop everyone’s capacity to engage in collective and shared leadership.
For a variety of reasons, I tune into the human tendency to hoard power rather than share power. I notice the effects of power hoarding, and I am much less tolerant of our cultural addiction to hierarchies of power. I have experienced the abuse of positional power (hoarded power) in politics, government service, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and religious institutions.
If you are sufficiently interested and tuned into the importance of shifting our authoritarian hierarchical leadership culture, you may want to read these papers:
Also, there is a transcript of a keynote presentation I gave to the National Network to End Domestic Violence gathering in Chicago in 2015.
Today, I am writing the first of what will most likely be a series of essays analyzing the leadership fundamentals of public actions of various progressive groups in Montana (focusing on Helena). I am very clear that my role and responsibility during the Trump/Republican Regime is to promote the emergence of collective shared leadership. I am also very clear that most progressives don’t have a clue what I am talking about, they seem almost incapable of seeing the possibility of organizing human beings without old patterns of command and control (from a centralized source of power).
Younger generations are more open and receptive to the idea, and naturally more adept at collaboration. Many progressive Baby Boomers (like myself) are stuck in a dysfunctional culture of pseudo-consensus where no one officially leads. Some seem to be waiting for another MLK to appear so that they can rally around a charismatic leader (ie: Bernie Sanders).
Frankly, my recent attempts to cast a vision of an expansive uprising that allows for many new leaders to emerge encountered so much resistance that I found I needed to step back and rethink my involvement. My role is to continue to cast a vision of what we might accomplish if we give up our need to control the when, where, and how and join our energy behind the collective why.
We need a vision of a future that is compelling enough to create a majority movement with millions of collaborative leaders empowered and engaged in their unique piece of the puzzle that creates a more compassionate, just, sustainable, and beautiful world.
In my opinion, one of the reasons that the Republican/Trump Regime has taken over our Nation is that they completely embrace the totalitarian/authoritarian mindset. In fact, they are rigidly defending their right to hoard power (and money is power) at all costs.
We all know how authoritarian power organizes human effort because we have endured that form of hierarchy/patriarchy as the dominant culture for millions of years. We also know that cultures of shared power, egalitarian cultures, partnership cultures have also been part of the human experience (even before hierarchies began hoarding power).
The authoritarian mindset believes concentrating power and wealth is what works. Fear and uncertainty fuel an increasing need for strong authoritarian leadership. Following an authoritarian leader offers a sense of order and security and the hope that if one follows orders and submits to authority, one is almost promised an opportunity to climb the power pyramid. Identity and self-esteem are closely tied to the position one has secured within the authoritarian power pyramid.
The lust for authority and power is not only a male trait. Many white women are driven by their desire to climb this authoritarian ladder, to break through the glass ceiling, and get to a place where they can hoard power and use it secure their control (over their life as well as the lives of others). Some of these women vote Republican, some consider themselves liberal or vote Democratic.
Organizing mass authoritarian movements is relatively easy (and very familiar). The people at the top of the power pyramid have not only hoarded power; they have also hoarded wealth. They use the familiar culture of top-down hierarchical organizing to recruit their supporters. We have seen how a minority (around 35%) has been able to dismantle democracy. They value “order” and “control” over democracy. They have manipulated our two-party system (yes, both parties), gerrymandered our geographical divisions, and restricted voting rights.
Authoritarianism is not new. Although the Declaration of Independence cast an inclusive democratic vision, it always had the intention of primarily benefiting a powerful minority of white men with land and wealth. We make progress, and regress, and we are experiencing one of the most threatening regressions in the history of our nation.
I believe (and public opinion polls show) that there is a majority of people who are frustrated and disillusioned with their leaders (in all of our institutions). Human beings are evolving to a level of consciousness that creates an increasing resistance to authoritarianism and hoarding power and resources. A culture of “everyone leads” has been emerging, and that in part is what is creating the strong backlash/regression from the authoritarians.
I believe the Democratic Party and most liberal progressive social change organizations are floundering because leaders within these institutions and organizations are stuck in the old leadership culture. I see it all of the time. It is more subtle than with the Republicans. These leaders (now being called “The Establishment” by many) have positions of power and authority. They believe they need to control their followers. They believe they need to compete for resources and followers, and they are stuck. Progressives work in their silos, and within their systems or organizations, they fail to address the challenges of an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world. Many leaders hold tightly to the power of their position within a social change organization, most unwilling to admit that they fear the loss of their power or even their job, within the reality where the other side is gaining an increasing share of power and resources. The fears are most likely subconscious and the hoarding of control and positional power is generally justified because they know more, or have more experience than their beneficiaries, followers, or supporters.
There is also an element of the progressive/liberal social change movement that is stuck in a pseudo-consensus mindset. I label it pseudo consensus because the lines of authority, responsibility, and accountability are so muddled that individual personalities tend to dominate the work. Using consensus as an excuse for not formally organizing, or for delaying decisions and actions indefinitely, allows more assertive personalities to subtly control what gets done, and when it gets done. The preference for consensus without an examination of the productivity lost through arduous consensus processes, explains why the anti-war movement and other movements from the sixties have not effectively transformed our reality.
I am not suggesting that the days of top-down organizing are over, not by a long shot. However, progressive movements need to be developing the capacity to lead without hoarding power. They need to learn how to create empowering systems of organizing to create a more beautiful world engaging a multiplicity of leaders — building mass movements that are not dependent on a few high profile heroic leaders.
I have much more to write on this subject, but we have so much work to do to dismantle this Authoritarian Regime that I just wanted to put this out there for you to consider.