Friday, June 18, 2010

A Libertarian Theory of Followership

Because of our biological and cultural programming, researchers continue to focus on male-dominated "heroic leadership" with little regard for the facts and values associated with followership. So first of all, let's clear the air. There are no leaders without followers and there are no followers with out leaders. Therefore, our obsession with freestanding leaders and our relative disregard for followership is itself is worthy of explanation and commentary! Second, let's also admit that if there are better and worse leaders (in terms of both effectiveness and morality), there are also better and worse followers. And third, let's admit that (for better or worse), over time, leaders influence followers and followers influence leaders; that is, leaders and followers adapt to their organizational environments. Fourth, organizations, leaders, and followers are all influenced (for better or worse) by other organizations in their environment. And fifth, sometimes organizations, leaders, and followers cooperate in pursuit of their respective goals and sometimes they compete. If this sounds complicated, you're right!

Now a libertarian theory of followership is a prescriptive or moral theory based on aforementioned facts. So what are the necessary conditions for ethical followership? Obviously, libertarianism requires that followership be voluntary. I like John Rawls' term "voluntary association." Hence all organizations must include freedom of exit. Why? Because sometimes powerful leaders threaten to use lethal force to prevent followers from exiting non-voluntary organizations. And of course, sometimes followers employ lethal force to remove leaders. (Assassination of leaders by followers is embarassingly common and probably unique to humans and chimpanzees.) This also suggests that sometimes followers care more about organizations than they care about their leaders, and sometimes (perhaps more often) they care more about their leaders than their organizations. In so far as libertarians take the non-aggression axiom seriously, the use of lethal aggression to remove leaders can be employed only in self-defense. Otherwise, we are morally required to exit dysfunctional and/or immoral organizations. Although the "heroic theory" of leadership and followership would label this strategy as cowardly, or effeminate, it works; economists call it "creative destruction." Remember, there are no leaders without followers. There are, however, self-organized, leaderless organizations. More on that in a subsequent blog.

Sometimes followers follow leaders based on false or misleading information. My next blog entry will attempt to sketch in how the flow of information within and between organzations influences the survival and extinction of organizations and why libertarian followers must be wary of misinformation and/or disinformation diseminated by leaders.

1 comment:

Damian Manassa said...

Ethical followership suggests an emotionally intelligent person; one who responds versus reacts to situations; one who consciously practices critical reflective thinking; questions assumptions and beliefs and one who understands that freedom of the individual is based on the premise of an interdependent performance oriented relationships. All of our relationships have explicit or implicit expectations binding them.I have observed the leader-follower relationship in the organisational context as an executive coach for over a decade and we must as facilitators of adult learning and development and custodians, promote the awareness of the empowered or critically reflective follower. The follower must be engaged as a co-constructor of reality and not a subject of it. The education system is skewed to developing leaders; that's where the money is! However the pace of change and the nature of complex international business suggests that the term Follower must define someone who is a leader of self and a follower by choice; not a victim of circumstance.
Damian Manassa