Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Libertarian Theory of Organizational Leadership

I've been thinking about what a libertarian theory of organizational leadership might look like. Libertarians often rant and rave about leadership, but rarely present anything that resembles a general theory rooted in libertarian principles. Here's my modest start.

First of all, humans, like many of species of living things, live in organized groups. Human beings and chimpanzees seem to be especially prone to the formation of "organizations" controlled by dominance hierarchies with coalitions of males perched at the top, with one "alpha male" serving as leader. Organizations, therefore are comprised of complex relationships between "leaders" and "followers." Hence there are no leaders without followers, and no followers without leaders. All human organizations are created to serve some purpose. Thus all leaders lead toward the realization of some future end or goal. Although human beings create and dissolve organizations all the time, most scholars seem to focus on certain kinds of organizations: political organizations, military organizations, and business organizations. The central question of leadership studies is whether there are general laws of nature that apply to all organizations, regardless of their purpose; or whether the laws of nature are relative to specific kinds of organizations that pursue specific goals. In short, are there laws of leadership and followership that apply equally to all organizations? Are the leaders of corporations, terrorist networks, baseball teams, and rock bands (in fact) all subject to the same a set of universal laws? My current view is that there are very general laws of nature that explain, predict and control the behavior of all human organizations. But that will require an argument.

My observation is that all organizations involve relationships between leaders and followers. Over time, as human relationships became more complex under pressure from rapid cultural evolution, most notably in Western nations. Again my understanding of social anthropological findings is that early human social organizations were dominance hierarchies led by an alpha males. But leadership was based on demonstrated competence. No one Alpha made all the decisions. As long as humans lived in small groups this "worked" very well. However, as the sizes of human organizations increased, the efficacy of these dominance hierarchies diminished. Although many large human organizations are still organized based on rigid dominance hierarchies, these organizations often survive but rarely flourish. There are still many nations led by military dictatorships headed by leaders that are viewed in otherworldly terms; that is, omnipotent and omniscient. Many corporations are also still led by iron-fisted CEOs. However, my theory of organizational leadership is that large scale organizations require a different kind of leadership. Actually, Machiavelli noted the difference between a principality (single leader) and a republic (multiple leaders). Large scale republics are more likely to floursh than large scale principalities. Admittedly, many large scale principalities do "survive" for a long time, but they cannot flourish. Why because large scale social organization require the free flow of information and resources. Now, several hundred thousand years ago, leaders could know everything the group needed to survive.Today, it is impossible for the President of the U.S. to know everything about health care, banking, or oil drilling. The President of Toyota can't know how to engineer an automoble from scratch, and college presidents can know how to teach every course on the curriculum. Successful modern leaders cannot be omnipotent and omniscient, therefore, its naive to expect them to be. Obama can't know how to fix the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. I's nonsense to expect him to "take responsibility for it." All that does is support our misguided that our leaders must be God-like, which explain why we no longer "trust" our leaders. Effective leaders of modern large scale organizations facilitate the flow of information and resources within their organizations; and forge useful coalitions with other external organizations. That does not require omnipotence or omniscience and it certainly does not warrant multi-million dollar executive pay. Any libertarian theory of leadership will argue that we need less powerful leaders and a lot fewer of them. Finally, if leaders are responsible for maintaining the flow of information and resources, then they are responsible removing forces that interrupt that flow. Therefore, although I do not hold Obama responsible for the oil leak, I will hold him responsible for maintaining inflexible governmental bureaucracies that do not fulfill their official purpose. Good leaders fire irresponsible subordinates and dissolve dysfunctional governmental agencies. Let's start with FEMA,EPA,and he U.S. Coast Guard.


writewriterandtutor said...

How is this Libertarian Theory of Organizational Leadership different from Feminist Theory of Leadership that posits the best leadership is that which levels the macho hierarchy of dominance and features a leader who, on an even playing field, facilitates the free flow of information by tapping the expertise of stakeholders and empowering them to act?

Freedom's Philosopher said...

You caught me writewriterandtutor! I'm a closet feminist. I would also argue all feminists that question "heroic leadership" are libertarians, but they don't know it, or aren't willing to admit it.


This was an interesting perspective on organizational leadership.I agree that leaders have a level of hierarchy of his follows and while they may not know everything but should be able to lead his followers to the right direction.Leaders sin my opinion should also know when they are not able to lead effectively.

Carly Ruwan said...

I agree that republics are much more likely to flourish than principalities are. Both may be able to form but a principality will never develop any further from where it has started because there is no way one person can fulfill the needs of a group of people, especially groups of a hundred/thousand/million+ people. Republics are able to flourish because a group of people come together for the common good of one another and make decisions that would benefit the group as a whole. This allows for growth and improvement, which a principality does not allow for.