A New Leadership Model for an Increasingly Complex World

BY #EBBFMEMBER FARSHAD ARJOMANDI

Article originally posted on the Global Governance Forum blog here.

The growing dissatisfaction of citizens with their political representatives in most countries of the world is evidence of a political leadership deficit. The recurrent crises we have been facing in recent decades and the threats we face as humanity clearly suggest that our leaders have great difficulty in responding effectively to these challenges.

In the realm of business organizations, a McKinsey study states that approximately one-third of business organizations believe that they do not have the quantity of leaders they need to carry out their strategies, nor the quality of leadership they need to achieve their objectives.

Over the past few decades, many researchers and social scientists have made great efforts to find out what factors influence the quality of leadership. Although the academic community has not reached a clear consensus on leadership effectiveness, these decades of study and observation nevertheless offer some general conclusions about the functions of a leader.

The functions of a leader

After an exhaustive study of research in the field of leadership and exploration of the main theories on the subject, Gary Yukl concludes that there are 10 leadership functions that, in his opinion, are the most important:

  • to help interpret the meaning of events
  • create an alignment of objectives and strategies
  • build commitment and optimism
  • build mutual trust and cooperation
  • strengthen collective identity
  • organize and coordinate activities
  • encourage and facilitate collective learning
  • obtain necessary resources and support
  • develop and empower people
  • promote social justice and ethics.

These functions are not unique to leaders. However, their development and deployment within an organization, a community or a society depend to a large extent on how its leaders behave and commit themselves consistently to these functions. This is where the values and attitudes of leaders take on great importance. One metric of leaders’ consistency is their “say/do” ratio.

The ethical dimension of leadership

In the late 1970s, and inspired by the ideas of Max Weber, a number of American scholars began to develop a novel approach to charismatic leadership. These theories explored the motives and behaviours of charismatic leaders, as well as the psychological processes that might explain how they influence their followers.

At about the same time that interest in charismatic leadership emerged, another theory called “transformational leadership” emerged. This theory focused on the ability of leaders to transform their followers. It is also concerned with the effect of this transformation on culture.

Although many authors use the terms “charismatic leadership” and “transformational leadership” interchangeably, there are differences that should be noted. We could say that from the charisma perspective, the focus is on the leader’s influence on his followers, based on certain characteristics (charisma), and from the transformational approach the focus is on the leader’s ability to empower and motivate his followers based on high principles (morals).

As these two theories evolved, greater interest emerged in the ethical dimension of leadership. One concept that invariably recurs when addressing ethical leadership is that of “personal integrity.”

As is well known, corruption has devastating effects on the advancement of a society and its citizens. Hence the growing concern for the ethical dimension in the management of companies and the great disaffection of citizens with respect to their politicians, due to cases of corruption and the lack of transparency in the management of public affairs.

However, ethics in leadership is not only about corruption, but also about the limits of power and its abuses. Both issues are of particular interest.

The dangers of one-man leadership

More and more people are wondering to what extent a leader, say a head of state, can wield enormous power without being subject to some safeguard mechanisms. This debate used to take place in the context of authoritarian regimes, which are more prone to abuses of authority; however, in recent years it has widened to include countries and leaders operating against the background of democratic traditions and institutions which have come under various forms of attack and strain. We consider some examples drawn from our history over the past century. Hitler and Stalin, widely recognized by the medical profession as genocidal psychopaths, fell under the intoxicating effects of the narcissism of the ancient Caesars.

The hallucinogenic effects of limitless power led them to a parallel reality from which they governed in ways that were ultimately not only utterly destructive to their societies but caused immense damage and suffering to countless others, often far beyond the borders of their respective countries. We see echoes of this in present-day Russia, an authoritarian society increasingly subject to the forms of totalitarian control last seen under Stalin (e.g., widespread censorship and propaganda, persecution of opposition politicians and those of opposing views, large-scale corruption), now engaged in an unprovoked conflict with Ukraine which has wrought wholesale destruction on the country, destabilized the global economy and is, slowly but surely, erasing decades of progress in the integration of Russia into the global economy.

Present day Russia is not by any means the only country in the world where one-man leadership — they are always men — has undermined the basis of peace, security and prosperity. This particular model of leadership creates powerful incentives for the preservation of political power at all costs, often because the exercise of such power is no longer about serving the legitimate interest of the people in any way but is more about maintaining the economic benefits of power and the accumulation of vast wealth for the leaders themselves and their coterie of close supporters.

Traditionally democratic societies, with long histories of the peaceful transfer of power, are also increasingly vulnerable, as we saw in January 2021 in the United States and the coup attempt currently under investigation.

The growing complexity of a globalized and highly interdependent world has challenged the one-man leadership model, which is ineffective in solving the problems of this new world and, as we have seen, constitutes a great risk to the security of humanity as a whole.

An effective change: Collegial leadership

In view of the above, it is necessary to consider a profound change in the current one-man leadership model. The change we suggest would not only make the world a safer place, but also a more prosperous one, as it would allow the growing complexity of human affairs to be managed much more effectively.

What we are suggesting here is the need for collective or collegial leadership in the executive branch. The one-person leaders who embody this power need to be replaced by institutions whose members are democratically elected. These collegial bodies (not their members) will have the necessary and sufficient authority to govern the people, communities and institutions under their jurisdiction.

In this way, we would ensure that decisions affecting millions of people — sometimes hundreds of millions of people — would not be made by a single person (however many experts and advisors may surround him or her), but by a group of people expressly elected by the citizens to exercise power in an institutional manner.

The members of these institutions would have full voice and vote, and none would have veto power. These members would not have any prerogative or special authority in a personal capacity. They would meet in assembly and after consultation on matters would make their decisions, collegially, unanimously or, failing that, by a simple majority vote.

For example, instead of having a single head of government, there would be a council of several members to be determined by the constitution of each country (we suggest between seven and eleven individuals, both men and women), who would run the Executive for a period established by law.

If the digital era is distinguished by collaborative work, continuous learning and self-organization through multidisciplinary teams, the leadership model of political and economic institutions will also have to adapt to the characteristics of this new era.

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