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The Courageous Leader in a Premodern Organizational Context

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With the decline in Maoist threats (or at least after many years of non-invasion), Taiwan began to look for a different kind of leadership. Martial law was dropped and multiple political parties were formed. Soon, a new government came into power and a new president was sworn in. There was major dissention in the country. Fist fights broke out in the Taiwan legislature (these fights were widely reported throughout the world). Over the years, this new Taiwanese-based party lost support and the president was not expected to be re-elected. He advocated for the independence of Taiwan and, as a result, China once again openly threatened Taiwan. The poll numbers for this unpopular president suddenly soared. Taiwan once again had an enemy and could look once again for a courageous leader. Ironically, China’s threatening behavior ensured the re-election of a man that Chinese leadership hated. Or did these leaders of China at some level want Taiwan to be a threat (thereby justifying their own position as courageous leaders?

A critical point to make in this regard concerns not only the increased support for a courageous leader when an enemy is present, but also the accompanying unwillingness of this leader or the social system he or she is leading to countenance any disloyalty or dissention: “we must remain united if we are to defeat our enemy. Any dissent will be interpreted by our enemy as a weakness and will be used to defeat us!” Dissent in Taiwan exists as long as there is no viable enemy (China), but collapses when once again the enemy is threatening. I would even suggest that when the external enemy ceases to exist, we create internal enemies. The new leaders of courage are now brave in battle against other factions within their own social system.

What about the United States? Did we find ourselves floundering as a nation when our long-time enemy (the Soviet Union) collapsed? Was Ronald Reagan our last warrior-king? Have we been struggling since that time to identify the new kind of leader we need—when there is no clearly identifiable enemy? Did the polarization in political parties between the Republicans and Democrats emerge because we no longer had this external enemy? While terrorist are certainly enemies, they are not easily identified (unless we wish to become bigots who identify all Muslims or all people from the Middle East and Asia as enemies). Is Barak Obama a courageous leader—or have we turned with his election to a new king of leader (perhaps the premodern leader of vision—another premodern style). What about the broad-based support for Obama’s campaign promise to promote bi-partisan search for solutions to complex problems? Is American society ready to embrace a reduction in dissent as a result not of the re-emergence of an enemy, but rather some profound shift in the nature of desired leadership for the United States?

What about the role of premodern courage on a smaller plain—in a group or organization? I would propose that the same challenge exists. The enemy must be strong and menacing. This enemy might be a competitor, in which case a win-lose mentality is likely to be prevalent. If there is no clear external enemy, then an organization can turn to internal enemies. There are many candidates: management, unions, sales, finance, or stockholders (to name a few candidates). Alternatively, the enemy can be identified in a more nuanced manner. The “enemy” can be poor quality of product or service. It can be poor management, inequitable labor policies, or ill-informed decision-making processes. If this latter perspective is embraced by an organization, then the enemy is likely to remain viable for many years—given that we can always find ignorance, injustice and poor group process in an organization!

Just as the challenge of a wisdom-based form of premodern leadership can be summed up in two words (“succession planning”), so can premodern leadership based on courage be summed up in two words: POWERFUL ENEMY. We must retain (and never defeat) the enemy. When a courageous leader is playing a key role in an organization, then considerable discussion must occur with regard to who or what is the enemy. There can’t be multiple enemies (unless they are perceived as being part of a unified coalition), nor can the enemy be identified in some vague terms. In addition, the organization must focus on the tactical and strategic plans that will be engaged when confronting the enemy.

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