Home Concepts Concepts of Leadership Addressing the Irony: Three Styles of Leadership

Addressing the Irony: Three Styles of Leadership

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Many years ago, a noted European social historian, Fred Polak (1972), wrote about the decline of social systems that have lost their image of the future. Polak points to a critical factor in the ongoing existence of any social system (or any living system for that matter). It must have something toward which it is moving or toward which it is growing. Organisms are inherently “auto-telic”—meaning that they are self-purposed. They don’t need anything outside themselves to engage their world actively and in an inquisitive manner. This is the fundamental nature of play and curiosity that is to be found among all mammals. `

Without a sense of direction and future possibilities we dry up and find no reason to face the continuing challenge of survival. We find little reason for producing and preparing a new generation. In the series of Australian movies regarding Mad Max a post-nuclear holocaust world is portrayed that is coming to an end. When no viable future is in sight, then (as we see in these movies) there is no attending to children. They must fend for themselves, for we know they have no personal futures.

Ironically, there is a powerful story about post-nuclear holocaust in a novel by Cormac McCarthy (2006), called The Road, in which the father continues to protect and sacrifice for his son, even though the world is coming to an end. This extraordinary protagonist somehow finds meaning and purpose – and vision—regarding his son in the midst of despair and death. Perhaps this is the type of leadership that we need in the challenging and irony-filled world of 21st Century terrorism, nihilism and despair. McCarthy offers us a portrait of leadership that blends courage (Style Two) with vision (Style Three)—and perhaps in some very deep manner even the qualities of wisdom (Style One).

The organizational leader who is honored and respected for his or her capacity to convey a compelling vision of the future needs a viable vision (just as the Style Two leader needs an enemy and the Style One leader needs to possess wisdom). One of the great ironies to be faced by the third type of leader emerges when the vision has been realized, abandoned or ignored. If there is no longer the need for a vision, then we certainly don’t need a visionary leader. As in the case of the wise and courageous leader, the visionary leader confronts Hard Irony: don’t be too successful. Without an unfulfilled vision there is no need for hope or commitment to the cause. We confiscate our future and walk away with nothing new about which to dream.

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