Why Leadership?

Where does the notion of leadership come from? There is no unified theory on leadership, possibly because the world is too diverse. The study of leadership has its roots in early civilizations. For example, the Sumerians, Taoist, Egyptian rulers, Greek heroes and heroines, and religious patriarchs may have shared a common behavior–that of an authoritative rule or a mystical wisdom. Over time, the behaviors of the ruling class diversified and today the Era of Social Media has enabled almost everyone to organize his or her own groups of players in building teams. By scanning the environment for behaviors of leadership, it becomes evident that humans are not the only animals, or life forms, to manifest characteristics that look like or can be interpreted as leadership.

Kevin Kelly describes a type of leadership in Out of Control. He introduces what he calls “vivisystems”, which are engineered systems that possess the behaviors of living agents. He elaborates on bee hives and ant colonies as specific types of self-governing systems, and identifies behaviors of humans who are highly valued for their ability to organize and determine a plan of action. Kelly refers to Ender’s Game (Card 1985) and how the central character is a “most brilliant player” and a “born leader” (Kelly 1995, 247) due to his ability to seize the moment and apply a series of hands-on technological prowess. While bees and ants don’t use technology to achieve success, their collective mind pattern of behavior is engineered for survival. Take the ant, for example:

“In seeking food, ants appeared to have both followers and leaders. As the follower ants learned a new route by memorizing landmarks, they tapped the leaders with their antennae encouraging them to proceed to the next step. The leader ants appeared to actually be teaching the followers how to locate the food and remember its setting. The leader and follower were running together in tandem and this action also involved bidirectional feedback between pupil and teacher. According to Nigel Franks, professor of animal behavior and ecology, ‘Within the field of animal behavior, we would say an animal is a teacher if it modifies behavior in the presence of another, at cost to itself, so another individual can learn more quickly.'”

From this study in the Behavior Sensory & Neurobiology department at the University of Bristol, the Temnothorax Albipennis may be a new example of a nonhuman agency with a professorial cap.

Another example of leadership awareness and how complexity emerges from simple decisions is exemplified by the “V pattern”, typical for birds in flight. The V pattern is generated by the lead bird in creating a surf-like condition for the formation of all in-flight birds. This pattern also helps those with have differing abilities to fly at a constant speed in order to stay together. The aerodynamic V shape reduces air drag and helps the birds obtain their aim—to reach thousands of miles for survival. What is beautiful about the V flight pattern is that its cybernetic type system is constantly adapting to the weather conditions and while any shift may cause a bird to shift out of position, the bird will “feel” the air drag and quickly get back into the formation.

The data observed in a global flight pattern video clip below possesses a fluidity that is inspirational. What if this connectivity of behaviors were data observed from the global idea-making patterns of Humanity+!

(Aaron Koblin 2006)

The idea of leadership suggests that leaders have followers. This idea has faced innumerable challenges over the years, especially in a timeframe where social media and rapid communication place everyone participating at a center of his or her own connections. Google+ exemplifies this role of circling groups and connecting people and ideas rather than a linear framework. The theory of N-order cybernetics encapsulates this notion elegantly. The user is within the system and a participant of the system. Leadership ought to be considered likewise—that all players are participants. But a system needs direction and a course of action based on an appropriate and well-suited aim. And here is where the challenge is faced. It’s great to have a darn good idea, but is it doable? This one single question will make or break an organization’s goals. A friend of mine, Gregory Stock, once said that what we desire and what is feasible are two different ideas and in order to find resolution, what is desirable needs to be feasible, within its given timeframe.

Forming a doable strategy for what is desired and what is feasible does, in large part, require the western world’s notion of Leadership as a role of responsibility in making choices and having the good sense to act responsibly about those choices. It also requires the Eastern concept of being able to focus in on concepts and seeing the details as well as the gestalt. The basic tool-box of leadership may be comprised of an array of skills and processes, including strategic planning, environmental scanning, stakeholder analysis, and a SWOT protocol, but these methods pale in comparison to the art of developing a clear aim, a team who enjoy working together and are passionate about what they do—like a fluid, cybernetic flight pattern of idea-making patterns of Humanity+.

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter F. Drucker
“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
“Leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned.” – Harold Geneen
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
“Be a yardstick of quality.” Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” – Steve Jobs
“Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” – Steve Jobs
“My philosophy of leadership is to surround myself with good people who have ability, judgment and knowledge, but above all, a passion for service.” – Sonny Perdue
“We’ve had a loss of the sense of the frontier. We have to reclaim that.” – Peter Thiel
“Be bold. If you’re going to make an error, make a doozy, and don’t be afraid to hit the ball.” – Billie Jean King
“We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.” – Marie Curie

Natasha Vita-More is Chairman of Humanity+, the parent organization of H+ magazine.

5 Responses

  1. Thank you Natasha for your insightful article. For me the best leaders are the ones who are not really seen as the single sticking-out of the crowd persons. Being a mentor and enable others to play to their strengths is what real leaderships probably is, yet it is often not easy to accomplish.

  2. Matthew Bailey says:

    Are you familiar with David Rock’s Neuroleadership work?

    • Natasha says:

      Thank you for the information. I am familiar with aspects of this approach from a master’s program in future studies. This project’s curriculum looks great, but their conference seems a bit business oriented and may lack transdisciplarity.

  3. Vasilis Theodossiou says:

    “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” – Jack Welch

    That came to my mind reading what you wrote down about the “toolbox”.

    I liked the idea of helping growing others or letting them to grow. A leader have already chose / created his followers. It would be disastrous not to let their passion move like a fluid – cybernetic flight pattern!

    I liked very much your article Natasha. Thank you.

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