Beliefs: Leadership Lessons and Take-outs

We are not yet ready to compare any of the old-style leadership models and practices to influential Leadership, but there are general points that inform this particular discussion.

The elements of belief systems that do not sit comfortably with influential Leadership include:

  • the dictatorial tendencies of the originator and follow-on heads (‘leaders’),
  • the absence of questioning by followers, and lack of tolerance by ‘leaders’ of questioning, which nurtures a general culture of subservience,
  • the notion of ‘followers’ rather than collaborators or associates (strict hierarchies),
  • the exclusionary and hierarchical design, practice and culture (i.e., the ‘othering’ practice), which specifically targets the place and role of women and people who have alternative beliefs, or none,
  • the placing of emotions before reason,
  • the contradiction between what is written and / or stated, and practiced by both ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’,
  • the disconnect (contradiction) between ‘follower’s’ lived lives and their ‘spiritual’ life, and
  • the absence of personal responsibility (in the current life).  In some instances, the basis of influential Leadership, namely, social agency, is diluted on behalf of a deity that can resolve social and natural matters on our behalf.
In Summary
  • Beliefs continue to exert formidable influence on ‘leadership’ matters and the ways people live and express their lives.
  • Belief systems, in association with their initiators (founders) and their subsequent ‘leaders’, have been and still are powerful influences (and influencers) in society.  They are perhaps the most influential of all social constructs, if one uses the numbers of their adherents and what they do in the name of their beliefs, as the litmus test.
  • Belief systems have stood the test of time, with the largest ones tracing their history back 4,000 years.
  • There are many contradictions between the theoretical position of many beliefs and their practices.
  • There are strong tensions between beliefs designed in very different eras and the ways that political, economic and social lives play out in 21st Century.

Where else can we draw inspiration from, and heed lessons – both productive and not – for our appreciation of influential Leadership?

We have thought about our earliest forebears, then skipped to beliefs as they are as old as we are, but there must be more.  Where else do we find people who could have been doing leadership things, or be considered ‘leaders’?

I am purposefully omitting ‘politicians’ from the list as they already dominate any and every list of so-called leaders.  If you refer back to our opening conversation on the common understanding of leadership and leaders, the lists we got were almost only politicians.  It surely cannot be right that this is the one social domain where we find almost all our ‘leaders’, and if it is, then we should interrogate the matter to understand why.

So, outside of politics and religion (beliefs), here are the kinds of trades, activities or vocations that tend to breed ‘leadership’ ideas and practices, and perhaps ‘leaders’:

  • academics, researchers, scientists, and teachers,
  • adventurers,
  • businesspeople,
  • engineers and inventors,
  • social activists,
  • sportspeople,
  • thinkers (philosophers); and

Citizens is the eighth category (collective) on our list – it is left till last because it is the most important.  This category covers all the sub-categories we could list, because people from this domain are all of us.  The citizen is the individual who makes up households, communities, teams, schools, businesses, every kind of collective, country and our world.

All of us are individuals first, citizens of our world, before we are anything else.  Mostly, leaders arise here.  This is a particularly important point in the world of influential Leadership – that each of us is a latent leader – we are free to choose to be leaders; that it is not our birthright (heritage), or our personality, or our job, or our title, or our office that determines whether we are leaders or not.  But much more of that conversation in Part 2.

Depending on our definition of leadership and leader, we would surely find a host of people to add to the above eight categories of where ele we may find leadership and leaders.  If we attached these names here, what would their common traits and behavioural themes be?  What kind of things would they have done, for better or worse, that could define them as leaders?  In other words, if we assume that these folks were traditional-style leaders, what would we look for to determine the truth of such an assumption (i.e., that they are ‘leaders’)?

I hazard a guess that we would find these people – from a variety of social domains and setting – all did at least one thing in common; they changed things, they moved their field (the thing they engaged in) to a different place (maybe forwards, maybe backwards – it depends) – but they did things out of the ordinary, both for themselves and others.

One of the traits that was inherent in the earliest forms of leadership is distinctly absent in our above-mentioned list, namely, physical strength.  Unless your sport or adventuring is predicated on physical capabilities, there was (and is) no need for stature, attractiveness, ability to sire or bear children, and so forth, to be a ‘leader’.  Rather, we may find the converse – that the least impressive ‘physical’ specimens have been at the top of the game, if it was science, or art or social activism.  These people relied (rely) on their reason, on their thinking, their personal discipline and perseverance, persuasiveness, courage, and resourcefulness to lead their field.

The first piece of our trawl through the history of leadership (as it has commonly been understood) offers a sense of the subject from what people did (or may have done) – rather than the writings and theorising that are generally the starting place for a review of the history of leadership.  In other words, we have observed people’s behaviours and outcomes, not their theories.

There are four reasons for starting right at the beginning of the human timeline, rather than somewhere farther down, which are:

  1. To establish that ‘leadership’ – depending on our definition, of course – is a social construct. Humans invented leadership to manage their affairs, in simple and complex ways, forever.  Leadership likely came early in humanity’s need to construct arrangements for doing things, organising themselves, and competing for resources.  Influential Leadership argues that if we could look at the life of human #1, we would discover that they started off by managing (‘leading’) themselves, and from there it has become ever more complex and universal – home, group, community, country.
  2. The past need not be the future. Leadership has its roots in what people did, or could do, because of certain personal traits – such as physical strength or persuasiveness or intellect, and the conditions that prevailed.  Over time the nature of the social construct became ingrained and culturalised in ways that have been expressed for the past thousands of years, until today.  This is why, largely, it is commonly thought that leadership is a function of the things that have sustained it, such as a title, divine right, wealth, power, a designation, personality, physical attributes, an office, and so forth.  Even the idea that leadership is a social construct that ‘only belongs’ in the military, business, politics and sports teams, is a throwback to history; as is the idea that men are better ‘leaders’.
  3. The direction of action or causation. The actions, the behaviours came first, and then a word was coined to describe that kind of behaviour.  In the English language the word ‘leader’ is traced back to the fourteenth century, and ‘leadership’ to the early nineteenth century. Sources suggest that there are no equivalent Greek and Latin derivatives, so it is unclear how these concepts were described in the Greek and Roman societies.  We can agree that there were no such terms when human #1 emerged.
  4. We are laying down an argument that will help us to conclude that whatever this thing – leadership – has been, and how it has been practiced, neither suits the 21st Century, nor was it productively configured in the past. The latter point does not imply that there was an absence of proper leadership, but that what was and still is considered to be ‘leadership’ is actually something else, and certainly something other than influential Leadership.

The next section of leadership through the ages takes a more conventional approach as we scan through the ideas, theories, and models of leadership that have been the content of the subject in more recent times.

‘The word leader comes from the Old English word ‘lædan’ meaning ‘to go before as a guide’. It was first used in English in the 14th century to describe a person in charge, and then various other uses came about later. Use of the word leader in reference to an opinion article in a British newspaper is from 1837.’
Accessed on 2 June 2021.
‘Leadership is as old as the hills, but the actual etymology of the word is modern – the first known use of it dates back to 1821 when leader was combined with the suffix “ship” denoting position (as in the position of a leader). The word leader has an older pedigree – from the Old English lædere, “one who leads”, agent noun from lædan,” to guide, bring forth”. Lead or leader does not have a Latin or Greek derivation. The closest word in antiquity relating to leadership is the Latin word ducere “to lead, consider, regard” and interestingly in modern Romanian language the word for leading and leadership is conducere.’
Accessed on 2 June 2021.