According to an op-ed piece by Jeffrey Nielsen in SLTrib (26 Oct 2011), leaderless communities have a future:
Leadership by its very definition sets up relationships of unequal power. You can’t have a leader without a follower, and the inevitable relationship between leader and follower is one of unequal power. The leader will feel entitled to monopolize information, control decision-making and command obedience, and the follower will feel obligated to do as he or she is told.
Of course, every community, or group of people, committed to some purpose must accomplish certain administrative tasks. These include:
- the strategic task (vision),
- the operational task (planning),
- the tactical task (doing it) and
- the resource task (financing it), among others.
So how does a community perform these essential tasks without creating a leadership hierarchy? How can these essential functions be managed without leaders in a leaderless community?
Few have been able to figure out how to do this intentionally or over long periods of time. Consequently, every revolution and reform movement has eventually collapsed into some leadership hierarchy and betrayed the goals that inspired the movement in the beginning. One system of unequal power relationships simply replaced another one.
I believe a community, or reform movement, can succeed without leaders if they organize to perform the essential tasks through peer-based, or leaderless management vehicles; namely, peer councils, rotational stewardship positions and mentors. In such a leaderless community, authority and obligation originate in our mutual accountability mediated through a process of ongoing, participatory dialogue. Fortunately, we see the emergence of these vehicles in the leaderless movements occurring today.
Jeffrey Nielsen is the author of “The Myth of Leadership: Creating Leaderless Organizations.” He teaches in the philosophy departments at Westminister and Utah Valley University.