To begin; this is an exploration of two distinct types of leadership. There are, of course, many other types, as many, perhaps, as there are situations of leadership. However, this essay is going to limit itself in scope to two large categories. I believe that most (if not all) leadership positions can be placed in one of these two camps. This analysis is generalized. It is meant to be. It is an attempt to identify paradigms of leadership, and not to discuss the specifics of any one leadership situation. While analogy and example are used, these are not in any way intended to be all-inclusive or exclusive, but are simply useful tools for presenting concepts.
To identify these two paradigms of leadership, I will call one “Organic” leadership, and the other “Constructed” leadership. These two words, by themselves, do not fully express the differences in these paradigms. They are a poor attempt to label concepts that tend to blend into one another. Indeed, at times, Organic leadership requires a Constructed system for identifying a leader. At other times a Constructed leadership system may produce an Organic leader. Let it simply be for the purpose of this essay to use these two terms by way of easy identification.
Constructed Leadership – This paradigm is what we are most accustomed to when thinking of leaders. In a Constructed system, leaders are identified by some mechanism of advancement. This may be popular election, or promotion from superiors, or excess resources, or some other method of identifying qualifying leaders. The key to this format is in the way a leader emerges. Objectivity is the catch phrase. Some sort of objective matrix is laid upon a given population (either from within the population or from without) in order to identify a leader.
Organic Leadership – This paradigm is closer to systems of leadership, which can be found when no methodology is used to identify leaders. In an Organic system, leaders emerge from the population as needed. The way in which these leaders become identified is subjective and not tied to any system of measurement. The leadership may have very broad or very limited scope of both action and time, dependent upon the needs of the population. It may be cyclical. It may be momentary. It may be indefinite. The significant aspect to this format is its subjectivity.
While at first, these two paradigms seem to be appropriate at different times and under different circumstances, a deeper examination of how they each work, reveals inherent, qualitative distinction in the types of leaders they will produce. But more impactful is the types of institutions that they each rely upon. This is, I believe, the essential argument for moving from Constructed leadership, toward Organic leadership.
In Constructed leadership models, any individual (within the framework) is free to pursue a leadership position. This seems equitable and fair, and indeed it is. The opportunity of leadership is open to any and all who have the desire to fulfill whatever requirements are in place for leaders. As an example, a manager at a department store chain. The position is open to anyone who shows the ability to focus upon the company’s priorities, perform beyond expectations, be accountable to upper management, etc. It is possible to create a definition for who qualifies and who does not. Another example could be the Presidency. A popular vote, a minimum age, born an American; these qualifications allow identification of who shall occupy the office. They enable a method for selecting the leader.
With these methods of identification come institutional selection processes. The process may be as simple as a vote by a show of hands. Or as complex as resume submissions, board review, background checks, auditions and interviews, and so on. These processes become the roadmap toward leadership. By creating a set of qualifications, and coupling that with a selection process, the group has laid out a path for aspiring leaders to assume the role. Every individual within the group can identify themselves as within or without the qualifications along with where they may fall upon the path toward leadership.
Often in a Constructed leadership model, the role of leader comes with increased privileges. These may range from pay to benefits to travel to housing to any number of things. These privileges make leadership attractive to the population. The desire to attain leadership status is increased. Infrastructure is created to support leaders. This may be as simple as a colored armband or as complex as Air Force One. The infrastructure may even be something hard to identify to the uninitiated. It could be in the form of office placement within a building (corner office with two walls of light) or a new set of power tools, with the used tools passing down to other workers.
Whatever forms the infrastructure and privileges may come in, for the initiated, leadership becomes a desirable goal. Granted, some or many individuals may not ever aspire to leadership. They may have a variety of reasons. The critical point in this becomes the rewards of leadership. These rewards, privileges, infrastructure all serve to inspire some towards leadership. Of course, not all applicants for leadership positions will have only personal gain as inspiration. Many will want to serve the group. Many will have truly inspiring and altruistic visions coupled with the willingness to work hard to realize them. The essential issue with Constructed leadership is not those inspired to become leaders, but with the demands of entering leadership.
Organic leadership models have a much different basis. These are less obvious forms of leadership and so examples of institutions are more difficult to identify. Perhaps it is one task of an emerging movement away from Constructed leadership, to create institutions, which support Organic leadership.
The Organic model does not have an expressed selection process. That is, there exists no framework of qualifications to identify leaders. Any individual may be called upon to assume the leader role. The group itself pushes these individuals into position. These roles may be temporary or indefinite. The group, based upon its need, makes the determination. What distinguishes this type of identification is a strong group ethic for communication and community effort. An example may be leadership of popular movements. Within collective communities, the group tends to position individuals who are able to articulate the group vision, towards the leadership role. Just as easily, the group can shift its focus upon another individual who may better embody the collective intent, as circumstance demands.
The selection process is as elusive as the qualifications. Groups using an Organic model may select multiple leaders for a given task or may change selections, seemingly arbitrarily. Perhaps the group will decide upon a schedule for selection. Perhaps leadership will remain with some for long stretches of time and with others for relatively short periods. The essence of the process is that it reflects the changing dynamic within the group, rather than reflecting the achievements of the individual. These two factors of qualification and selection are an important contrast to the Constructed paradigm. The responsibility of leadership rests squarely with the collective.
Circumstantial examples may be best to illustrate this concept. In a crisis situation, the process of group selection is readily visible, due in part to the fast pace at which events are unfolding. Often in an emergency, the group will naturally look towards whomever is perceived as most capable to lead through the crisis. We see evidence of this in news reports from disasters, when some individual is identified as a “hero”. These instances of leadership materialize organically. It is the group itself, identifying the most qualified party.
Once the group identifies a leader, infrastructure is needed for the individual to be able to effectively carry out their duties. This may come in many forms. Perhaps, the group assumes the individual’s normal responsibilities. Or a form of compensation is created for the times when the leader needs to assume the role. The core of this concept is the lack of privilege. The leader need not be rewarded for the leadership role; rather the group has the responsibility to maintain the leader during the time of leadership. The leader is making a sacrifice. The sacrifice of living their own lives, with their own direction. The leader must live according to the needs of the group.
Within this paradigm, leadership is not a desirable role. It may, however, convey a sense of honor to the individual. This is the reward for leadership. Being identified by the group as a fitting representative. However, the risks of leadership become more exaggerated within this frame. If the group should feel the leader is no longer serving their best interests, the leader is removed from the role. This may inspire the individual to strive to meet the group’s needs, rather than to bolster their own qualifications. In sum, the Organic model, rather than attracting individuals to the role of leadership, places leadership in the hands of those found most receptive to the groups needs.
The differences in these two paradigms are extensive. To begin with, the selection process and infrastructure for Constructed leadership are in place at virtually all levels of our society. This gives Constructed leadership a very tangible advantage to Organic. The work of re-structuring our systems of production, education, safety, health, etc., seems daunting. In juxtaposition to an Organic leadership model, where the group governs the behavior of the leader, it would appear efficient and sober to continue with the Constructed model.
However, the true problem lies within the process. The Constructed process puts the responsibility of attaining leadership upon the individual and rewards them upon success. This creates a conflict of interest between the individual and group. The individual is, by necessity, inspired to create an image that is acceptable to the selection process. Rather than pursue their own life according to their priorities and desires, individuals attracted to leadership mold their lives to fit within the constraints of qualification and selection. While this may seem inevitable, it does not have to be. We each know of people who would be very suitable to assume a role for which they are not “qualified”. These are the people the group is free to use within the Organic model. As a consequence, the group will have the benefit of placing the most suited individual in leadership, rather than the most qualified.
The process of Constructed selection gives rise to another problem. Individuals, who desire leadership and move to shape themselves into qualified leaders, are faced with the need to convince the selectors of their suitability. This can be as subtle as omission of a past mistake in an application. It could also be as gross as campaigning for popular support. It is the very nature of a campaign to convince the group of the individual’s ability to perform. This process has little or nothing to do with the individual’s actual ability to perform the duties, but is a better indicator of their ability to convince others. Some candidates may actually be suited to the duties at hand, however, in the process of selection, presentation becomes as valuable, and at times more valuable, than content. In the realm of elected officials, this problem becomes most debilitating. In the best of circumstances, the elected official is faced with equal parts of presentation and content. This translates to half of their energy being devoted to image.
By comparison, the Organic model serves up a different set of problems. The emphasis of qualification is placed upon the group, rather than the individual. The problem this creates is one of time. The group must devote time to making decisions about leadership. These are not decisions like a popular vote. These decisions are the process of identifying leaders within the group, without those individuals striving to meet qualifications. The group must be highly self-aware and self-determined. The challenge of transitioning from Constructed to Organic leadership is heightened by the very fact of Constructed leadership. As long as leadership is already in place and functioning in a business-as-usual way, the group has no need to strengthen its internal process of decision-making. In fact, it is almost non-essential. Constructed leadership removes accountability from the group and places it upon the institution of selection. This creates a problem for transitioning into Organic models simply because the need is not evident.
But I feel the need is real. The need can be seen as a difference of quantity and quality. In the Constructed model, quantity is the benchmark. Who has the most qualifications? Who receives the most votes? Who has the most experience? Who commands the most resources? These are the parameters for selection in a Constructed paradigm. In contrast, the Organic leadership model focuses on quality. Who would be best for this role? Who best understands our needs? Who best represents what is important to us? Who is going to give the best effort?
It may become evident that shifting from Constructed to Organic leadership is not a simple or fast process. Indeed, by its nature, Organic leadership is a slow process. It is slowed even further by the demands of the current Constructed paradigm. This should not be evidence of its unviability, but rather further inspiration to explore its possibilities. Organic leadership has been present in human cultures of the past. It is present in small groups and organizations of today. It can become more and more viable as we struggle to adapt to the challenges we have created in our modern world.
The first step in the process of shifting to Organic leadership is in recognizing the harm that has come from the Constructed model. The systems and institutions of our current leadership model are directly responsible for much of our modern problems. That is in and of itself a separate topic. This essay has touched upon some of the roots of what enables harm to occur, but is insufficient to address those processes in detail.
I hope this can serve as a brief description of how leadership can be realized from a grass-roots perspective, as apposed to a top-down authority. This is not meant to be an exhaustive analysis of the process of Organic leadership, nor a conclusive condemnation of Constructed leadership. There are times when each may blend into the other. The main purpose of this essay has been to emphasize that leadership has a place and a format within a new form of cultural organization. The individuals within the groups, within the larger groups, must create that new form and not have it imposed upon them from the outside. As such, I am unable to accurately describe how those processes will manifest.
Humans have a need at different times, in diverse circumstance, to establish leadership. The nature of this truth gives rise to the problem of determining who shall lead. Our current paradigm of Constructed leadership is insufficient to the needs of the group. A more responsive alternative is Organic leadership.