Robert Greenleaf (1996), one of the most thoughtful management consultants of the twentieth century, recognized the danger inherent in the rank-based nature of leadership, saying that "an important weakness in the concept of the single chief at the top of a managerial hierarchy is that such a person is apt to be a manager and to assume, by virtue of having the position, that he or she has all of the talents it requires" (101). Another great leader, Vaclav Havel (1994), who came to political leadership as president of the Czech Republic when it became democratic after the fall of the Soviet Union, said of rank leadership:
Again, being in power makes me permanently suspicious of myself . What is more, I suddenly have a greater understanding of those who are starting to lose their battle with the temptations of power. In attempting to persuade themselves that they are still merely serving their [organization], they increasingly persuade themselves of nothing more than their own excellence, and begin to take their privileges for granted. (73)
If the rank-based context of leadership is a primary cause of unhealthy and joyless business organizations, it's time to start thinking about the possibility of organizations without rank. These organizations would be peer based as opposed to rank based. In rank-based organizations, a few people are elevated over the majority, who are sub-ordinated to these few. In a peer-based organization, ranking simply wouldn't exist. Everyone would be considered to be of equal importance and worth, and personal involvement and mutual respect would lead to a sharing of responsibilities. In rank-based organizations, those lower in the company are frequently sacrificed for the benefit of those higher in the company. In peer-based organizations, all employees would be seen as playing an equally important role ”where what benefits one should benefit all, and what hurts one will hurt all. Leadership, I realized, is by definition a rank-based concept.
Even such appealing conceptions of leadership as Robert Greenleaf's "servant leadership" imply ranking, division, and separation. Whenever we think in terms of "leadership", we create a dichotomy : (1) leaders , a select and privileged few, and (2) followers, the vast majority. There follows the implicit judgment that leaders are some-how superior to followers. So you get secrecy , distrust , overindulgence, and the inevitable sacrifice of those below for the benefit of those above. The word leadership , in fact, immediately creates a ranked division of people in ways that do not serve healthy organizational relationships. It also produces a privileged elite who, no matter how sincere they are, will eventually be seduced by their position. That's why I argue for creating peer-based organizations. And a peer-based organization would essentially be a leaderless organization.