Magnitudes: Leadership for something greater than yourself.

Author:Harter, Nathan
Position::Essay
 
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I wonder about the presuppositions when voices are raised concerning the fragmentation of society and problems of disconnectedness. (1) At the heart of these concerns is a philosophical anthropology, i.e., one's beliefs about what it means to be human. What is it exactly that is fragmented or disconnected? It is probably incumbent on me to disclose my own beliefs before proposing a response.

I subscribe to the belief (not original with me) that human beings are already disconnected or fragmented at birth. (See, e.g., Schaeffer, 1982, 1-114, especially at 69 ff.; Bonhoeffer, 1937/1959, 77-85; Buber, 1938/1972, 118-205, at 177ff.; von Rad, 1972, 96 and 101.) Each of us is born broken along four dimensions: we are born broken from the natural world (red in tooth and claw), from other human beings, within our own minds, and from the divine ground of being. In other words, we are broken physically, socially, psychologically, and spiritually. This is one way for me to understand the doctrine of original sin--not as something anyone did, but as a condition of being separated or fundamentally disconnected.

Which is not to say that humans are incapable of closing these fissures. For instance, we find ways to engage in collaborative, cooperative, and coordinated activities all the time, when we agree on common goals and work together to achieve them. In fact, it is cooperative activities such as these that interest those of us in leadership studies.

The field of leadership studies exists in part to examine the processes of influence behind episodes of coordinated, collective behavior. Only in the last thirty or forty years has this examination become conscious of itself as a separate academic enterprise. Before then, of course, many writers noticed leadership and tried to make sense of what was happening. Sadly, those who engage in leadership studies today often neglect the rich heritage that is available. I am not convinced there is a leadership book published in the last twenty years to surpass Aristotle's Politics. I ensure that my students read and discuss Niccolo Machiavelli's short book The Prince.

In any case, the literature on leadership in the twentieth century quickly incorporated the fact that leadership comprises not only what the leader is (i.e., a leader's "traits") or what the leader does (i.e., a leader's "behaviors"), but leadership also includes a relationship with the one we call the follower. Leader and follower find themselves participating in what Georg Simmel called a sociological form (1971), a relationship which can serve as its own object of investigation. Beyond this, of course, the participants in leadership belong to a tangled network of mutual influences, including rival leaders, out-groups, and beneficiaries who may not belong to the relationship directly. Still, the unit of analysis is the leader and the follower together--a relationship of mutual regard, mutual dependence, and mutual influence.

Here we find a unification...

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