Over the past two decades, the field of management has been swamped with books with "leadership" in the title. Leadership training, leadership seminars, leadership gurus are everywhere in organizations and throughout the business culture. I was part of this growth industry as a presenter for one of the largest leadership training companies in the world. As I traveled extensively giving leadership
Physicist and social thinker David Bohm in his
(1996) said, "Now, the whole of society has been organized to believe that we can't function without leaders. But maybe we can" (15). His statement struck me like a bolt of lightning and made me reflect on the nature of leadership and its role in organizations. It reminded me of the critique of the nature of power by French philosopher Michel Foucault. He examined the way we
In this climate, we become so "neurologically hardwired" to see relationships as being rank based that it becomes very difficult for us to believe it could be any other way. Most people would have a difficult time even
Michel Foucault said there are three ways of becoming classified or defined in modern society; the first he called "dividing practices," where some social or political authority classifies individuals and places them somewhere in a political hierarchy. The second he called "scientific classification," where a science authority classifies people in terms of scientific categories. Both of these
The main difficulty in
Character is a bundle of habits and potential behaviors that depend on timing, circumstances, or context to be triggered. Research has shown that context can make good people do terrible things and terrible people do extraordinarily good things. How we behave is frequently a function of context rather than character. This is demonstrated by research by Stanley Milgram of Yale University in the 1960s showing that average, decent people would give an electric
Another example is the 1973 study by Princeton psychologists John Darley and Daniel Batson. As described by Malcolm Gladwell in
The Tipping Point
(2000), Darley and Batson based their study on the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan. They chose to work with a
If context, not character, is the determining factor, then a key question is, How do we organize things and create the organizational environment for exercising our better habits? Does rank-based leadership create the right context for a full flowering of human potential?
We tend to think that leaders are necessary for effectively guiding human relationships in organizations, but do we ever ask why we believe this? Why do we anoint a relatively small number of individuals as leaders and give them more resources and better assignments, while we lock the vast majority into
"Big Man" society
”right to rule determined by virtue of personality; control
Chieftain society ”right to rule determined by position rather than personality; control maintained through threat of physical force, not from individuals, but from the organization; individual's status determined by position
”occurring over the last six thousand
In each of these forms, a person's standing and position in society are based on rank. Status and access to resources depend on proximity to the Big Man, the tribal chief, or the person at the top of the hierarchy. To keep relative standing and position safe, individuals must keep the rank-based leaders above them happy. It seems that rank-based organizations, in some sense, have been set as our default position since the days of the Big Man, when societies typically numbered no more than one thousand. This historical context has produced a rank-based logic that requires a division of leaders and followers. It is sufficient to say that rank-based organizations represent our past but not the promise of our future. A fourth social form, the network society, is emerging.
 Malcolm Gladwell discusses FAE in The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (New York: Little Brown & Co., 2000), 160.
See Milgram's own analysis of this basic human