This essay is about leadership.
It seems to be presidential election time again already [July 2015]. (I thought those things were supposed to come only in even-numbered years.) I can tell, because I keep seeing guys on TV saying that they are running for a given office, or that they have not yet decided whether to run for that office. There seem to be at least twenty of them. Each and every one seems to claim that they would be good leaders, but for some reason that doesn’t make me feel good about them at all. Perhaps that’s because I have a rather intense distrust of people who want to lead me, but then I am rather strange in other ways as well.
If we take a look at some of the great leaders in history, we are faced with a crowd of military types and heads of governments. So let’s consider them first.
When governments first evolved, the head of state was also the top military commander. Governments have always been about force and the application of force. So those leaders of the military were also leaders of government. Even high priests who were chief executives of governments also led their armies. In those times the military leaders were literally out front in the army – exposed to death from combat like any other warrior. Look at the campaigns of Alexander the Great for example. They led by example, of course, but also by interacting face to face with their soldiers, many of whom they knew personally. By the time governments existed, the army was paid in whatever was acceptable as money in those times. Leaders without access to money did not lead for long no matter what their titles were. So leadership in the military and in government was a function of control of wealth. As we noted in the essay on war, you can’t have a war without money. You can have squabbles, fights, conflict and other contests but the organization and formalities of war require a medium of exchange. One can lead if one pays others to follow. Of course this makes the relationship a zero-sum game relationship. That means that the leader and his followers are now opponents: rivals over who gets how much money. That’s another consequence of the physical object nature of traditional money. But since the followers are now rivals, one must use force and the threat of force to coerce them into obeying. The relationship becomes one of master and servant. Would you want to be led if that meant that you were in the role of a servant who had to follow or be punished?
As time passed, and governments and the military evolved, they both got larger. Relationships became more formal. Obligations to command and obey became encoded in the law and in longstanding custom. But leadership was still based on force and the threat of force for governments and the military. Today, people who can force others to obey them are still called leaders. Thus, Al Capone was considered to be a leader. Joseph Stalin was considered to be a leader. Bureaucracies had top down organization with commands originating at the top and being passed down through the structure of the offices to the lowest levels to be obeyed. In this case again, physical object money or POM as we’ll call it, was the best means of gaining compliance. If one did not obey one would no longer get POM. Living without POM in a POM economy is quite difficult and often painful. We can conclude, therefore, that there is a lot of coercion inherent in bureaucratic leadership in the modern world. Being a leader is more a product of being able to coerce than of having good ideas, noble ideals, a good character, or even a magnetic personality, whatever that is.
So let’s consider other areas of life in which leadership is found. In the larger churches we find a lot of bureaucracy, so we’ll skip them and examine the smaller churches, sects, and other less formal religious organizations. Note that they are organized. There is authority and power. As they grow, money is involved more and more. The grassroots brings what might be called “natural leaders” to the fore with many small groups having leaders, but there’s a weeding-out process in which those leaders who are more successful at gaining additional adherents and power eliminate the leaders who are not so skilled. They are rivals, competitors, and in a few cases enemies. They are working against one another in competition for new members and financial support. Naturally, leadership in this kind of context is an “us against them” relationship which has people working against one another. This context is the familiar zero-sum game relationship which POM simulates.
So just as with business, government, and military leaders, religious leaders use coercion and are fighting human opponents even within their organizations. Leadership is a means of defeating opponents within and among churches.
Where else do we find leadership? Well, there are sports teams. Quarterbacks are supposed to include leadership as one of their attributes for success. Point guards are expected to lead their teams whether or not they themselves are scoring. But sports teams usually have coaches who have considerable authority. In the competitive school sports leagues and the professional leagues, team sports are supposed to bring out leadership qualities in their players. In some ways, the very best of the team sports players are also leaders or they don’t win very much. This kind of leadership among players is not oriented around POM. There’s relatively little use of money to coerce each other among the players. Yes, the coaches who control the scholarship money do have some power to coerce the players under them but that’s considerably limited. So I think we can at least acquit the school sports teams of being led by coercive means alone, despite coaches’ use of such tactics as punishment exercise and screaming – or even cursing.
The context of the sports team is also different in another way. The coach can’t win the game unless the players win. If the players lose, they all lose no matter how well individual players may perform or how well the coach instructs. They are all in it together. They are not in a zero-sum game relationship. Of course for the professional teams, that’s only true when they are on the field. When they are negotiating contracts they are very much in a zero-sum game relationship. What the players gain, the owners lose. But coaches of school and recreational teams have a much easier time being leaders. The players realize, usually, or at least sometimes, that the coach is really trying to help them succeed. Sometimes the players even say they want the coach to drive them to achieve their best. This means that the coach as a leader is something that the players will not struggle against. Of course there are some teen-aged players who “already know all there is to know” about playing their sport and they don’t want any old farts telling them how to play their game. There are also some coaches who are really bad at coaching even though leadership for a coach is easier than leadership is for people in most situations.
We have considered government and the military, business, and sports. What are some other areas of life that involve leadership? One of these areas is music. Musical groups have to have leaders. Few musicians can coordinate their performance like a flock of birds or a school of fish. Someone has to set the tempo and indicate the dynamics. So that guy with the baton out front – who has no instrument and isn’t even singing – really is useful and playing an essential role in generating the beautiful (or not so beautiful) music you listen to. Now these band or choir directors are tyrants when they are skilled at their art. They demand absolute and immediate obedience without any need for explanation or compromise. The band or choir members realize that to sound really good they must be right together making the correct sounds at the appropriate time and with the designated style. An operatic soprano and a country music diva singing together – each in their own style – do not generate harmonious music. (Unless the song is intended to be comedy such as “Anything you can do I can do better”.) To properly blend and harmonize the two women must use the same style, phrasing, tone, and volume. The same thing is true of a good band or choir. Their efforts need to be well-coordinated if they are to sound good. The band leader is responsible for that coordination, and to achieve it he must be demanding. A person playing an instrument often cannot hear what the music sounds like to others. This is true of singers and many instruments. Perhaps the piano is an exception when accompanying a singer but even then it is difficult. So the band members have to trust the leader to tell them to be louder or softer or more or less strident in tone. Singers have to be told even such things as facial expression and body language.
Yet there are many choirs and bands in which all the performers are volunteers and in which the performers happily accept the direction and commands of that tyrant director. The performers and the director are all on the same side. None of them can succeed individually unless the others succeed. The director is necessary to their success as a group. A good group will even demand leadership. They really don’t want a wishy-washy director.
It seems to me that the leadership of military, governmental, business and other bureaucracies is of a different kind from leadership expressed by leaders of sports teams, musical groups, and theatrical productions. In the bureaucratic case, the leadership always has a coercive element or threat which demands obedience. The groups which use a leader for coordination or education (coaches) are cooperating to perform or learn better. The former serves to reach the goals of the leader even if that harms the followers. The latter groups share interests and each member can succeed only if all of them do.
Now one would think that in a business or a military unit or even in a government that there would be the same kind of commonality of interests that we find in sports teams and bands. One would think that, because if the business succeeds one would expect there to be more resources for the employees to share. If a military unit succeeds they would be more likely to survive unhurt. And in a governmental unit their success would strengthen the very communities in which they, themselves live. The externalization of costs by businesses will, in the long run, harm the business as well. The sacrifice of the troops to cater to the vanity or greed of the military commander will tend to cost the commander the very success he so craves. The tyranny of a government creates enemies, and an atmosphere of fear and corruption which tends to oppress the government workers as well. In other words, leadership by force tends to be self-defeating. How, then, could such oppressive leadership survive at the expense of the more benign leadership characterized by mutual interests? If you have been reading this series of essays, I am confident that you already know what my answer will be.
The nature of the money we use, that physical object money or POM as we call it, creates the kind of context or environment in which the mutual interests of the various parties are ignored and POM’s lie of zero-sum game relationships is accepted as truth. The fact that POM can be taken from you against your will is a temptation too strong for some people to resist. The fact that physical objects are amoral and can be used for any purpose whether good or evil allows POM to be employed to coerce others. The fact that POM is more easily acquired the more POM one already has generated the imbalances of power which provided opportunities to oppress. Given the nature of our money, how could leadership be expressed in those areas in which POM is a major part of the interaction in any way other than as a coercion, as a use of force? Even if the leader has no intention to coerce, even if the leader is kindly, even if the leader has the best interests of her followers at heart, the mere availability of the coercive power of POM is still in the minds of her followers. The fact that such power can be exercised is enough. It’s like petting a tiger. The tiger may be tame, old, and nearly toothless but it is still a jungle predator and it can still kill with a swipe of a paw. The same is true of any leader in the context of POM.
In the context of a non-POM economy, there’s no coercion beyond that which a single individual acting alone could generate. Such coercive power would be available to anyone except in rare cases. If you are large and strong, or a gifted martial arts fighter, you might be able to coerce a few others into obeying you for a short time; but with non-POM, one person cannot hire another person to obey them. Let’s say that you wanted to force someone to do something immoral, something which would harm other people. How could you persuade a third party to assist you in this effort? You could not use non-POM as payment. You could use the offer of some luxury item since luxury items may be physical objects. But the transfer of ownership is a public record. With a non-POM system, all the things one buys are recorded and those records preserved for public access. It’s like when you sell a house, car, or land in our POM economy. So if you gave some item to someone as pay for doing your bidding, that gift would be on record. Then if that someone applied force to someone else at your bidding you would be linked to that action. That harm, the force, would cost you and your “employee” possible future income. In addition, anyone who prevented such an application of force would thereby earn non-POM. Thus, you would have the whole community against you. True, there are other means than bribery to get the assistance of others in an enterprise. But since what you are trying to do is coerce someone, that coercion will reduce the future income of everyone who supports it. Your efforts to persuade others to help in the coercion will have to be sufficiently powerful and effective to overcome that handicap. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just that it will be quite infrequent.
So if we exclude coercion by persons who are trying to lead, what remains? Rewards in the form of non-POM are the most likely means by which people will gain leadership. Almost any enterprise, goal or project which people strive to complete will earn money if it benefits others. Therefore, if you convince others that by supporting your plans, they will generate lots of benefits or prevent lots of harm they will be motivated to assist you because they, too, will gain from your success. It’s just like the band leader. More beautiful music (or more entertainment) will be produced if the band members do just what the band leader says. Likewise, if the people helping a leader in a non-POM economy do just what the plan calls for, doing what the leader says, there will be more benefits produced. And if the plan has flaws, each and every person who is helping will try to detect them, point them out, and help adjust the plan accordingly. If harm is done, they will attempt to minimize that harm and to repair and correct the harm that is done. In other words, they will attempt to maximize the net benefits which will maximize earnings for all. Given that this is the case and that the context in which people act in a non-POM economy guarantees that this will be the case, people will much more readily follow, obey, and go along with a leader whose previous accomplishments indicate that they have good ideas.
It’s not surprising that the result is that those who have more money will find it easier to gain still more non-POM just as is the case with POM. Leaders who get more money will attract people who want to earn money. Just like successful college coaches attract players who want to play on winning teams, so will non-POM leaders who generate lots of benefits attract people who want to gain wealth and who will follow those leaders. In this way POM and non-POM are quite similar. The differences between the two are largely concerned with what generates wealth.
Now let us compare leaders “gone bad.” Human beings are each unique, and some are insane or otherwise unpredictable. This will, no doubt, also be true of a non-POM economy population. Therefore let’s examine how the followers of POM and non-POM leaders who attempt to lead their organizations into evil behavior, would differ. We already know about such insane leaders as Hitler or Jim Jones and his People’s Temple mass suicide functioning within a POM economy. We already know of the conspicuous pollution by industry and of dangerous products sold to the public. We have plenty of examples of leadership doing considerable damage both to the environment and to people – including the innocent such as children. These examples from POM economies around the world are familiar to everyone who pays any attention to the news. But how would a non-POM economy be any different if there are crazy leaders to be found in that non-POM economy?
Remember that in a non-POM economy one is not hired. In a non-POM economy, the leader does not pay anyone for anything under any circumstances. The leader has no direct control over who is paid nor do they control how much or how little they are paid. Those who are following a non-POM leader are all volunteers who understand how what they are doing in following that leader contributes to the production of benefits and the prevention of harm to others. Taking some action which would harm people is obviously not going to prevent harm. All those involved in some non-POM economy project would be looking for ways to prevent harm rather than just doing what they are told. This is the huge difference between doing one’s job and working with others. In doing a job, one obeys because they are being paid to obey. In working with others, one is assisting them to promote some goal or objective, so one understands how one’s actions contribute to the accomplishment of that goal. Going back to the band example, let’s say that one of the performers discovers that one of the notes on the music they were given does not fit the chord the others are playing. Such misprints, though rare, do happen. The better the musicians who are members of the band are, the more likely they are to spot such errors. They can tell whether the odd note fits the character of the piece or not. Therefore, even though the leader of the band was not the one to detect the error, they will try to fix the problem. In a non-POM economy, such active and thoughtful participation will be the norm, the expected behavior, the most valued kind of contribution. Also, in a non-POM economy, there’s no excuse for “just following orders.” You will be held responsible for your actions regardless of who told you to do what you did. This includes what you do under threat of coercion. It includes what you do when everyone around you is doing the same thing. Just because everyone else is doing it also does not take away any of your responsibility. Living and working in the kind of context in which one is always held to be responsible for one’s actions will result in followers who obey only when it seems to them that obeying will do the most good and the least harm to others. Those followers will refuse to obey if obedience results in a reduction of benefits and/or an increase in harm to others. So if there is a mad or evil person in a position of leadership, that leader will find that their followers will not obey mad or evil commands.
This changes the nature of leadership for non-POM leaders. They must get their followers to understand how what they are requiring of their followers is the course of action most likely to produce benefits and the least likely to generate harm. Workers will be reluctant to obey if they do not feel confident that they understand just what the consequences of their actions will be. You will note that this is quite different from any POM economy. Employees have little concern for the consequences of their actions so long as the boss is kept happy and the money continues to appear in their pay envelope. In a POM economy, there are many externalized costs from business. In a non-POM economy there are no externalized costs. So leadership with non-POM has far more explanation and far more encouragement of people to share information. There is also much more concern with who is allowed or sought to join any organization. In other words, it isn’t just the leader’s decision as to who does what and who is to join “the team.” The people most likely to know who is doing their jobs well and who is not succeeding are those who work with them. The leader may find that the persons taking orders change with persons joining and leaving the team without the advice and consent of the leader. For the reasons stated above, with non-POM, people who are working together are much more responsible. Thus, if a segment of the followers assume responsibility for some part of the organization’s activities, the leader can be confident that the tasks will be performed and done well.
POM leaders often lie to their followers. This is particularly noticeable and common among political leaders but it is also the case with leaders in commerce and religious organizations. Lying does not seem to prevent leaders from success in POM nations, businesses, and churches. In fact, it may well be that lying is an essential for successful leadership in POM cultures. I am going beyond such things as trying to deceive ones opponents in a sport or game setting. Those lies (such as fakes in basketball or throwing a change-up in baseball) are a part of the game and harm no one. I am talking about material lies about intent and product characteristics and beliefs. These lies are lies which do actual harm to people. Let’s examine the situation in a non-POM economy.
A non-POM economy does not distinguish between lying to deceive or honestly believing what is said and being in error. Providing misinformation, regardless of the intent, the sincerity, the circumstances is likely to cost the speaker possible future income. In other words, if people are brought to believe something which is not true, they are likely to act under the false impression that it is true. Now people trying to benefit others and minimize harm to others who believe untrue things are likely to make errors and produce fewer benefits and more harm through those errors. So if a leader of some organization lies, that lie is likely to reduce the earnings of the members of that organization. But it’s also true that if the leader sincerely believes that the statement he is making is true when it is, indeed, false, that will have the same consequences. It’s being wrong that does the damage to incomes. Therefore if a leader lies or is mistaken, that will greatly reduce that leader’s influence and opportunities to lead in a non-POM economy. Note also, that it does not matter in what kind of endeavor or organization the leader is functioning, the results will be the same.
Of course, leaders in a non-POM context must welcome the correction of their errors by those who follow them. Seeking knowledge of the true situation is the only way to minimize errors. Human beings, being mere mortals, will always make errors and be wrong about things. This is true of leaders as well. So it is not so much that the leader is sometimes wrong, but how the leader reacts to being wrong that is most important. If the leader tries to hide their error, that leads their followers know that the leader will not try to correct errors and will let them grow. This is extremely bad for the organization and the general public. Such leaders would soon have trouble finding anyone willing to work with them. On the other hand, if the leader provides the sources of his information, the reasoning behind his conclusions, and ways to test his assertions, then the followers can find and correct that information more easily and quickly. Note that the leader is not making any assertion about what is actually true, but what seems to be the case. You will find this approach the basis for the scientific method which has served humanity quite well over the last several hundred years. For a leader to seek the assistance of his followers in eliminating error is to show good leadership.
We have covered leadership in organizations from the military/government to business and churches. We have touched on leadership in voluntary groups such as sports teams and musical groups. But what about the far less formal leadership which comes about seemingly spontaneously in such things as play groups among children or groups of adult friends. Getting others to go along with your ideas is a kind of leadership. It does not usually involve money whether POM or non-POM. In these instances the participants’ interactions are likely to be based on friendship. The members of such groups like one another and would not want to injure the other members either physically or mentally. But the societal context in which these groups exist has consequences for how they operate. If the society is based on competition, rivalry, and zero-sum game relationships, the people of that society will carry over those attitudes into virtually all their interactions. They will see human opposition even when it is not there. They are likely to suspect and be wary of other people, even friends. For example, if you have an idea and try to bring it to the attention of others to help them, you will find some people who oppose you even though you are trying to be good to them. This comes from that overall societal attitude of rivalry, opposition, and conflict.
Such opposition and conflict will not be found in a non-POM economy. The presumption there is that everyone is on the same side, and that we are all struggling with the uncaring universe to preserve ourselves and to make life better for everyone. Therefore such small informal groups of friends will have a context which is much more likely to foster leadership and benefit from leadership.
I strongly recommend the TED Talks 16-minute presentation by Margaret Heffernan titled “Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work.” She does mention money near the end but, of course, that’s POM she is referring to. The presentation demonstrates how cooperation, as opposed to competition, produces the best results. In other words, it isn’t the leader issuing commands that breeds success, it’s everybody helping each other. What she describes as succeeding best is exactly the sort of interaction that non-POM produces, like it or not.