Creating Leaderless Organizations

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.

This entry was posted in @n@rchy, Books, Organizational Dynamics, Social Justice, utopianism. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Creating Leaderless Organizations

  1. I’d enjoy exploring how to make the MTA a leaderless peer-directed organization.

  2. Brent Allsop says:

    Jeffrey Nielson is definitely a friend and hero of mine.

    The most difficult problem with huge crowds getting anything done, is simply knowing, concisely and quantitatively, what the crowd wants to do. The lack of ability to know that, is the only reason primitive hierarchies are still required.

    Once you have a unanimous consensus of what the huge crowd wants, getting it done is the easy part. If you know, concisely and quantitatively, what all the people in a particular country want, if any leader is deviating form that, you just kick him out. And if so, what do you even need them for? I completely agree that leaderless organizations are the future. Morally bottlenecked hierarchies are already starting to fail, and their days are numbered.

    I have a fictional story of a leaders organization based loosely on a like tool.

    I’d love to know your thoughts.

    Everything is all simply knowing, concisely and quantitatively, what everyone wants. Getting it is the easy part.

    Brent Allsop

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Hi Brent,

      I realize that what you have written on canonizer is a parable, or a metaphor, or a story, but it seems overly complicated. For me, “associates” should have input into hiring criteria, ethic’s rules, product development, company vision, etc. But I can’t see overcomplicating the small decisions. My own personal vision is more along the lines of hiring really good people, providing them with a healthy work environment, and turning them loose. No micromanagement. But again, my ideas are more directed toward organizations with professionals.

      I work for a Federal resource management agency. In the past, we were construction oriented. This meant a very top-down organization. God speaks to the Area Manager and he sends the troops out. Is was almost quasi-military.

      As our agency’s construction work has started to twindle, our organiation has started to need a new leadership paradigm. I’m currently nominally incharge of a small group. I say nominally, because I try to interfer with the work of my colleagues as little as possible. I hope they know that I support their decisions, but I’m here if they need a sounding board. I certainly don’t want to micromanage. The anarchy that this creates can sometime be difficult to deal with. But once everybody gets used to it, I think they enjoy being able to make their own decisions.

      The various tasks we need to accomplish require different alignments of professionals. These groups self organize with a temporary leader. But the leaders job is strickly organizational, and only for the duration of the task at hand. Not everybody can work in a chaotic environment. And the transition from quasi-military to semi-chaos is not for everybody. The customers also struggle at first. But eventually the come to like it because it gives them direct access to a qualified individual and they don’t have to deal with the bureaucracy.

      Thanx for sharing your ideas. I would be interested in ways that you think my group can perform better as a leaderless organization.

      Lincoln has expressed some interest in making MTA more leaderless.


  3. rogerdhansen says:

    A friend of mine emailed me the following:

    “I think you and I both have developed a lot of these qualities in our organizations…our people are very independent and free to be creative and are not micromanaged in any way. However, you and I both had to develop a vision for the work our organizations were going to do, we had to provide the resources to get them going, some training to help them know what to do, and even establish the culture that they will be working in. All of my employees office from home. We have staff meetings twice a month, and “mentoring meetings” (each meets with their supervisor) twice a month. They are very independent, empowered, and are certainly trusted to get their work done in their own time and in their own way. But personally since I have invested 18 years in building the company, I can’t really imagine rotating the position of president…I am pretty committed to being the leader and continuing to lead the company in whatever things I see I need and in whatever niches I think we need to pursue. I think there are certain things I do that even though I would LOVE to delegate so I can have more time, I don’t know if it would work or not.”

  4. Brent Allsop says:

    Hi Roger,

    Parable, yes. The fact that I chose the particular trivial decision like what meat supplier to use, was only the result of a previous debate I had with a very hierarchical favoring manager. My thinking was that something like this could be something critically important to any huge crowd, such as a first world county. My more favored example would swap out who supplies the meat, with should the US invade Iraqi (and when should they get out…?) Of course trivial decisions should just be made as easy and as local as possible – don’t get anyone involved that isn’t interested in it, and delegate as much as possible becoming interested in, and an expert at, only a few things yourself.

    You mentioned that some people do better in hierarchies than in, as you called it, ‘a chaotic environment’. This is definitely something that requires practice, and ‘getting use to’. You need to be highly educated, progressive and motivated. You talked about a manager acting as a sounding board, but the more important role is that of settling conflict between peers. Organizations tend to fall into this I primitive I don’t matter feeling, I just do what I’m told. 3M, where I currently work is so terribly stuck in that, everything is so bottle necked, and nobody has any power to do anything, there is zero cross organization communication, and the only c communication is top down…. At HP, managers would often encouraged to do ‘management by wandering around’, and this should be a requirement for all employees. They should be required to not do what is easy and just fall into the same rut of just doing what their manager says, but they should get out, wander around, and find ways to communicate, co-operate, and make everything better for everyone. Without such cultural pushes, organizations just tend to degrees into simply, bottle necked terribly inefficient and incapable of adapting, organizations.

    I very much like and agree with everything you’ve said here. Too me, the ultimate isn’t chaotic at all. It is the entire crowd knowing exactly concisely and quantitatively, what everyone wants, and everyone co-operating, perfectly, as needed, everyone taking as much responsibility as possible, to get everything everyone wants accomplished, as efficiently as possible.

    I don’t know who posted a response at 2:51 pm, but I very much agree with what he said about: “I can’t really imagine rotating the position of president” and think that in most cases such wouldn’t be good. The way I think of it, is you have very powerful expert over very small responsibilities organized in networks. You have one expert on vision, one on organization, one allocating available budgets for new R&D and where next the company should expand, and so on, managers of particular moral decisions, perhaps such as abortion, and on and on for every conceivable critically important issue for the crowd. Just as both of you describe, all self organizing and only lasting as long as necessary. The leaders that emerge do so because more and more people delegate their vote to them, on that one issue. And if someone who has worked 18 years to become the greatest ‘vision’ leader, becomes corrupted, or losses interest, dies, or whatever, the system easily adapts as people delegate their vote to a new emerging leader, on that one small issue.

    Once crowds become practiced communicating concisely and quantitatively, and learning how to change it from mere chaos and anarchy, to highly organized, disciplined, and infinitely well organized and adaptable networks, all hierarchies will quickly be supplanted or just ignored.

    Lincoln asked how the MTA can become more network managed, and I believe such could be accomplished by more survey activity. We should have prioritized to do tasks that everyone can help developed, prioritize, and contribute towards accomplishing. This extends into what are the MTA beliefs? Sure we’ve got some basic manifestoes on the most general ideas, but what are MTA values for every day how should I act, moralities? Again, we need to survey not just the MTA, to determine such, we should survey everyone to determine such…

    To me, it is all about huge crowds amplifying their collective moral intelligence about what to do, by communicating concisely and quantitatively. Once you know what everyone wants, concisely and quantitatively, getting it is easy.

    Brent Allsop

  5. rogerdhansen says:

    Hi Brent,

    Do you have Jeffrey’s email address? I’ve been unable to find it. You can email it to me if you prefer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s