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From Control to Power

A Fresh Look at Leadership

By Dr. Nick Begich

Political leadership has become a system of manipulation rather than a responsible transfer of authority from groups to individuals. In American government we are taught that all government flows from the people to the leadership. However, over time this concept has become corrupted by a failure to maintain this ideal. At the same time the concept of authority flowing from the populace has become a lost memory for many political leaders and government bureaucrats. Those who grant authority, to some extent, should regulate the leadership style. As a speaker and writer having held positions in government, politics, education and union organizations the responsibility of leading has been an important part of my professional life. The responsibilities assumed in these kinds of positions cannot be taken lightly. High standards of performance when filling leadership roles is required.

In the course of work, I have always been struck by the effect of leadership styles on people and what happens as a consequence of those styles. I have had the opportunity of speaking in mixed forums with other recognized leaders in various fields. I have observed numerous approaches to leadership many of which were highly objectionable. The most important observation is that there is a gap in leadership training. Yet, leadership is fundamental to much of what we are each about; so much so that it requires some discussion. The article titled "Change Agents and Reality Creation" (appearing first in Earthpulse Flashpoints Number One and then in a number of other publications) is a compliment to this essay. That article was on the mechanics of political action.

The ideas surrounding leadership, and the particular personal qualities of leaders, has always been of great interest. What motivates leaders to lead? What creates intelligent movements for change? What are the possibilities, and how are individuals motivated to take specific actions in following a cause? The goal of this essay is to increase awareness of leadership and to create positive change. We hope that greater consideration and awareness of the roles we are each in and how we act to create those roles will lead to more fully recognizing our individual potency as people. It is my sincere desire that in putting these ideas forward we stimulate much discussion. This essay represents the opinions of the writer derived from observing people in leadership positions in business, science, education and politics.

Leadership Education

Education in the ideas of leadership, and the psychology of following leaders, is not generally taught in public schools. Every person engages in both providing leadership and in following leaders in the course of everyday life. The theme of following and leading pervades and encompasses all of the important interactions of people throughout the world. Yet, this very important subject does not gain the focus of our educational institutions except in rare instances and almost never in the broad educational sense. The importance of understanding something about leadership is left to happenstance and to direct observation of leadership in action. For each of us, gaining some concept of leadership and what it should represent is left to chance.

In educational systems leaders do exist. Examples of leaders are present in both teachers and students but again their presence and their teaching is left largely to chance. This does not ensure that all children are exposed to experiences which build creative and analytical minds that understand and reflect leadership qualities important to individual growth. We all act as leaders at various points in our lives.

During childhood, leadership qualities are often mistaken for behavioral problems. The qualities of nonconformity, independence and a forceful personality are the same for leaders whether good or bad. The challenge for parents and educators is to identify leaders and channel their energy into positive displays of action. The children with these qualities fit well when guided by strong personalities, but when the adult is weak he or she attempts to contain behavior they don.t understand by typing the child as a problem rather than a leader.

Rising to the Call

We all recognize the need to move forward when action is required. Some wait to see who goes first and then follow while others, usually in the minority, rise to meet the call of the challenge to move forward on their own. Some are thrust into positions of leadership which they did not plan on being in while others move with deliberate action. Advancement to leadership positions occurs in all areas of human endeavor. These advancements are not always expected. They can occur through appointments, elections or through actions which cause other individuals to follow them to follow by doing something which creates action.

Advancement by appointment takes place in employment situations, political bureaucracies and every-where people interact. These advances are achieved based on the merit of the selected person, the bias of those with the power to appoint people, and an infinite number of other reasons both objective and subjective. The results vary depending on how well the appointment fits the capabilities of the person placed into these positions of leadership.

Election processes are another way in which leaders are selected. This selection process involves .selling. the leader to the public or .packaging. the candidate. These concepts of "selling and packaging" were not created in this essay. These concepts represent real approaches taken by virtually all political organizations and consultants. The use of the media and other communication mechanisms is always at play in building images regarding candidates for elective office. Even those elections which might be held within academic institutions for department heads, union leadership positions, corporate officers, or any position of higher levels of authority and responsibility involve some level of "packaging and selling" the individual. It is part of the process of selection and is necessary in convincing those who share the process as voters to reach decisions. As long as information on all candidates is honest, complete and measurable leadership selections can be made efficiently and effectively.

Leadership which rises out of the circumstances at hand can be quite powerful. This type of leadership is not appointed or elected. It just manifests based on circumstances. This is the spontaneous activity of seeing issues or problems which require action and individuals rising to meet the challenge. In so rising to the call of events these individuals are in leadership positions even if there is nobody behind them. This happens when an individual recognizes their personal need to pursue an issue and they begin to do so. They act on what they know with their focus on a solution or program of action. This kind of leadership happens to someone rather than necessarily happening by directed intention. Acting on an issue independent of anyone else often places a person in the position of leading on an issue where "leading" was never part of the original plan. Leading in this instance is one of the possible outcomes of pursuing issues and ideas.

Selection processes are not always successful. However, applying understanding to the processes and to the mechanisms which influence these processes and gaining a greater understanding of communication styles will improve the probability of seeing strong leaders rise to positions of responsibility.

Authority and Responsibility

Leadership, no matter how the position was achieved, is about authority and responsibility. The authority to lead can be gained by being appointed to a position, selected for a position or through the spontaneous action of individuals. Authority to act is only half of the equation: responsibility for those actions is the other. The idea that leadership has to do with being responsible is at its root. The leader is ultimately responsible for that which flows from the leader.s actions and the actions of his followers.

Recognition of the responsibilities which flow from positions of leadership and the idea of being accountable for those actions is sometimes lost. In political organizations accountability is often deliberately avoided. In order to control events and outcomes manipulation and .spin control. becomes more important than assuring that outcomes are representative of the ideals of those governed. All political organizations use the power available to them to control outcomes. Is this good or bad? Does this matter? Should we expect anything different?

In one of the last books written by Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited, the importance of ethical leadership in a technological age is explored. The book looks at the effects of technology and the power of technology in influencing the outcomes of public decision making processes. On the back cover concepts from this book (published in 1958) are summarized:

"today the science of thought control has raced far beyond the totalitarian dreams of Hitler and Stalin. Numerous methods for curtailing individual freedoms have been developed, and the pressures to adopt them are increasingly powerful."

Over two decades later Zbigniew Brzezinski, while a professor of government at Columbia University, wrote a book called Between Two Ages, America.s Role in the Technotronic Era in which he describes his expectations for the remaining thirty years of the 20th century. His description reads in 1996 as if it were a history of the last three decades rather than the forecast it was intended as. It lays a foundation, and sounds an alarm, just as Huxley had decades before. The most startling ideas in this work dealt with the ideas of power and control by political leaders. He expressed concern that the political leadership (no matter who they were) would seek to exploit all technologies available to them in order to maintain their advantage over others. This concept is not new. This thinking represents the way things have always been with the primary difference being that this kind of leadership used to achieve its power with clubs and guns and now has the ability of gaining its power with sophisticated media and new technologies.

The ideas and warnings put forward by both writers are legitimate and are even more disconcerting when laid over the backdrop of the 1990.s. Regardless of the view an individual takes of these two writers it is clear that they had a perspective on events which most individuals miss. The important issue is that they shared a vision of the future and attempted to inform people with their warnings and cautions. The technology to influence outcomes continues to increase faster than most people.s ability to evaluate it, much less object to it. The need to become more aware of leadership style and approaches is important in preserving freedom.

Leaders must consider the ethical use of all technology and new methods of communication. They must consider more carefully their impact on the decisions of groups of individuals while recognizing their responsibility for the outcomes of the stimulated group actions. A strong and well articulated ethic is the foundation of the leader. The ethical positions of leaders determines to a great extent the means which they will employ to reach their desired ends. From my own personal experiences I learned at an early age the importance of communicating messages with care. The idea that well articulated thoughts could create tremendous energy releases in the direction of change was recognized and was a bit frightening. The idea that we could influence outcomes to a very powerful extent caused me to withdraw from leadership positions for about four years in the early 1980's. During that time, effort was made to gain a better understanding of leadership, motivation, communication and self evaluation before I would seek new leadership positions. The foundation laid at that time was imperative to long-term growth and increased understanding. The point being that people should realize the responsibilities and the need to be sensitive to the impact which goes with leadership prior to assuming these positions.

Individual Empowerment

Empowerment is an overused word in certain circles. When used it is usually in the context of some kind of complaint or whining call for something not earned. Real empowerment is the outgrowth of applied knowledge and information. The idea of giving people power is often used in the context of empowerment discussions. In this essay I am proposing that empowerment is something we each already have and it does not require that anyone pass along anything for us to act on this inherent power. This is the power of self determination as it affects us individually in our lives. As a birthright, a prerequisite to being human, we have the free will to pursue our interests. This is empowerment. The only thing lacking is the conscious awareness that all we do is the outgrowth of our individual power and potency. The limits we hold are those imposed by ourselves, by our individual communities of interest, and by society at large. The power to act in our own interest is fundamental and we do not require anyone.s permission.

A Philosophy of Change

Anything can be changed under the right circumstances. Political activity can always be changed by those with a will for change.

The belief system which has motivated this essay and most other aspects of this writer.s life is relatively simple. It is the idea that we should strive to reach the highest level of physical, mental and spiritual development through holistic actualization of who we are individually, or, more specific-ally, by acting in accordance with our highest probability options at a given moment. To try to make an effort toward the good, to be helpful in all expressions is the goal. Within the idea of holistic actualization resides our responsibility to assist all of those we are in contact with in achieving their highest potentials also. The last point in this simple belief system is the most important in that in helping others we learn a great deal about our own potentials, both positive and negative.

The only standing rule: "Thou shall not violate." The rule means that we cannot trample, manipulate or seek control of other people. We are all in different places in our personal growth and are here to help one another. Leadership requires responsibility.

Control and Power

Leadership reflects itself for many individuals as a predisposition to control though individual leaders and intentions vary. One of the primary messages in this bit of writing is to assert that there is a difference in the style of leadership which is directly related to the basic ethical character of the leader. In working in government .leadership style. was often cited as an excuse for various degrees of inefficiency. Somehow, in the minds of many, "leadership style" was a viable excuse for failure to lead and perform in reasonable ways. This standard negated a consideration of the fact that certain .styles. of leadership do not belong in public service related work. The way individuals project leadership characteristics, or what they believe are acceptable methods of leadership, are very relevant. Certain leadership styles amount to irresponsible control of events and outcomes. The style reflects the predispositions of the individual which can be either good or bad with various gradations between extremes.

Authoritarian leadership styles are effective in some situations where absolute control and authority is required such as military actions, police actions and emergency situations where discussion of ideas is not relevant to the immediacy of the circumstances and the need for clearly directed actions is paramount.

A Path To Freedom

Cooperative and persuasive leadership styles are more in keeping with modern thought and generally leads to more progressive outcomes. In these instances a very different type of leadership is needed and proven to be most effective. This kind of leadership builds up and draws out the strength and talents of individuals. The objective of this type of leader is to empower rather than direct and control, to guide rather than manipulate, and to help individuals to actualize their fullest potential within the activity of the group. Individual integrity and strengths are recognized and developed as a priority of the leader, not in some kind of .group think. or dictatorial response to authority, but through a sincere desire to build into others the ability to recognize their own strengths and ability to lead.

This type of leader does not use manipulative methods to garner results. Manipulative methods are those which remove power from individuals. These tend to prey on negative emotions of fear, hate, greed and base self gratification. To use these to get others to act results in violations of other people. The leader in these cases attempts to motivate by external coercion whereas the opposite is possible through proper information and persuasion which releases people to follow their own path to the right outcomes. Internally motivated people are much more effective than externally motivated people pursuing issues. This is where base ethical philosophy interacts with leadership responsibility and accountability.

Leadership which subjugates and controls takes what otherwise belongs to individuals: their right to free will and self determination. These leaders place themselves in a superior position to their followers and maintain their position of superiority through coercive means. The structure of the leadership system is hierarchal with the leader at the top and all others below in a pyramid of power. Effective progressive leaders do not require this same structure. Rather than a pyramid, they operate along with their "followers" on an open plane where each person leads in their own way while building up others. Some rise above the crowd and then they work to lift others to their new level of effectiveness rather than maintain a superior position.

Motives, Perceptions and Interests

I once heard it said, "If you don.t know who.s in charge, take over. If they throw you out of town, get in line and act like it.s a parade." It is kind of a funny statement but it is also a reflection of reality. This is "spin control" redefining the truth to be something else or, more simply, its propaganda production. We can assert our individual will to shape the perceptions of others. A union organizer I once knew said, "We are in the business of creating new realities." Perception is reality. Usually, perception is all that is being manipulated by the professional sellers of politicians, soft drinks and used cars. The sad reality is that most people are asleep and tend to be deceived by these manipulations. Critical thinking is blocked by failing to recognize the impact of emotionally developed propaganda which feeds base emotions.

Manipulation is essentially the misapplication of information in order to perpetuate the interests of the leader. Manipulation is clearly wrong and should be replaced by persuasion. Persuasion involves disclosure of the facts to create thoughtful decision making on the part of participants. Effective persuasion awakens an individual.s ability to intellectually make decisions rather than react to emotionalized manipulations. This is fundamental to positive long-lasting change agendas. Truth will ring in the hearts of most people. Emotion should follow well articulated ideas rather than propel weakly contrived thoughts. In other words, the emotional response of followers should come after the ideas of the leader have been thought through and not the other way around. If emotion proceeds thinking, bad decisions are made. This idea can also be viewed in the context of control-vs-empowerment. Control results from withholding, spinning or manipulating information, whereas empowerment comes from delivering all information necessary to form an opinion and then providing a specific .action set. for use in actualizing change based on that information. Realization of the facts should elicit an emotional response to act in one.s own self interest. Persuasion is preferable to manipulation.

A good deal has been made of over control by government. The issue of conspiracy by design, or by default, is often raised in discussing whether the actions of government are being choreographed deliberately to control the rights of individuals or whether they are the result of the nature of our systems. To a great extent these actions are the result of the manipulations of the leadership. More is illusion than reality in how systems are engaged in debate. People are increasingly questioning the intention of leaders by considering who and what motivates them. This is a healthy shift for the followers and a death knell for the manipulative leader. Much of what is believed to be power, force, or direction is contrived by a few people with the ability to articulate and express their point of view into the public forum. Questions must be asked. Is the leader convincing based on the facts? Is the leader able to demonstrate a strong positive ethic which is adequately demonstrated by his/her life.s work? Is the leader honest in presenting all of the material necessary to empower individuals or is the leader taking power from individuals?

Recognition of individual strength is an important attribute of true leadership. This is what is being dissipated by over control of government that is dominated by manipulative leadership techniques. An individual's ability to self actualize his or her full creative capacity, at a point in time, is hampered by over control. Asserting an individual's will into factors for change is possible.Individual recognition of one's ability to first lead oneself is a precursor to leading others into actions resulting in real, lasting changes. Limits are indeed, to the greatest extent, self-imposed.

Defining the Interests of the Players

All people act in their own self interests. Some individuals self interests amplify their negative personal characteristics and others magnify their positive characteristics. Some people get satisfaction by doing good and others by selfish base gratification. Defining the motives of groups, corporations and individuals by discovering their "self interests" defines the perimeter of their leadership styles.

Our own interests, as well as our reasons for wanting to lead, should be well defined personally. The beginning of leadership is self-reflection. This reflection allows for the clear structuring of beliefs in line with the project about to be initiated.

My father, while a United States Congressman, used to say, .Philosophy without office is futility. Office without philosophy is pointless.. I prefer the idea that .philosophy without action is futility and action without philosophy is pointless.. Both statements say the same thing; one works from a recognized position of power,"Office," while the other assumes power as an attribute of all .action.. The power for change is in the present, in this very narrowly focused point in time. Leadership demands thoughtful projections into the future, into the development of increasingly higher standards where accountability and responsibility are equal to the authority granted to leaders by those who are led.

Distinguishing between leadership which empowers and leadership which controls is the issue. Asking questions as we are led is critical to growth and maintenance of our individuality. Leaders can also change over time. What begins with the right approach can often be corrupted by egoism and by impatience. Good leadership requires great effort. Progressive leadership is difficult to deliver and is the harder path to freedom. It is the path to true power letting power flow through the individual to others is leadership.

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