Photos of Leaders

By Donna L. McKereghan
November 20, 1997

"What kind of thing do you say that godliness and ungodliness are . . . is the pious not the same and alike in every action?" (Plato, Euthyphro, trans. 1981) Socrates turns to Euthyphro, himself a pious man, for a definition of piety. Euthyphyo can identify a particular person or act as pious and others as impious, but pressed to give a clear, precise definition without inherent contradiction, he is unable to produce one. The realization of his inability is unsettling. How can he be a pious man when he cannot define piety?

The problem is much the same in the attempt to produce a definition of leadership. A definition expresses the essence, the "what it is to be." (Aristotle, Metaphysics, trans. 1991) We often turn to examples of leadership, describe them, and attempt to identify what is common to them all, in order to abstract a definition of leadership. It is no wonder that we conflate the terms "leadership" and "leader." Using this method, we must look at leaders to find examples of leadership. This implies that we already know the definition, else we would not be able to identify leaders. Yet, if we already know the definition, there would seem to be no reason to need to extract the definition from examples of it (Plato, Meno, trans. 1981).

My solution to this paradox reflects the way I view the world. Leadership is not actually separable from leaders. The separation is only analytical. It is a distinction that is necessary to make for the sake of communicating our understanding, but it is not real. Problems arise when we reify our categories as if they were actually distinct, but this cognitive practice is common, especially in Western culture.

Positing a definition and making identification are inseparable activities. Yet, before an attempt can be made to answer any question, one must decide on which referent to use. One must begin either with identification to arrive at a definition or begin with a definition in order to make an identification.

Identifying is a far easier task than defining. We are more familiar with the world of existence than with the world of essence. Humanity is the quality or property we identify in humans. There would be little disagreement between people asked to identify the humans in a group of various life forms. There is considerable disagreement about the question of what it is to be human. We can easily identify a human even though the definition of humanity is illusive.

The case is not at all similar with leadership. Leadership is variously defined, as can be expected. But, people often disagree on the identification of particular leaders as well. The problem relative to leadership, then, is twofold. It entails difficulties in both defining and identifying.

Because we are more comfortable in the realm of existence than the realm of essence, disagreement over the identification of particular leaders is apt to be more intractable than the problem of reaching a definition of leadership. We have personal commitments favoring and rejecting particular individuals as leaders and our confidence in those commitments serves a necessary purpose in guiding our own decisions to act. In an attempt to avoid these individualistic commitments, at least initially, I will begin my definition of leadership by considering it as pure form. This is not to say that I will abandon the search for a definition of leadership by locating it in an individual. I take the question "What is leadership?" to be nearly synonymous with "What should a leader be?" The individual referent, then, is also an ideal--the ideal leader. He is the ideal against which I judge all actual leaders and the conceptual role model to which I aspire.

A leader should be responsible, compassionate, intelligent, just, wise, patient and energetic. In fact, I could develop a full list of virtues and, the longer the list the more completely I would have described the ideal leader. The ideal leader is a virtuous person, not just incidentally, but essentially. This follows from my understanding of the goal of human action as happiness. This aspect of my conceptual model is familiar to many as Aristotelian virtue-based ethics.

One of the common arguments against this view is that it is overly rationalistic. My model differs from the strictest Aristotelian interpretations, on this very point. I modified it, not because I heard a stronger argument than my own initial argument for it but, rather, because personal observation and experience flies in the face of such strict and limited rationalism. The original appeal of the virtue-based ethics was such that I struggled mightily to retain it, but I find people to be at least as emotional as they are rational, despite the image they sometimes portray. Rationalistic ethics does not fit the context, including the subjective personal context, in which I live.

In fact, another bit of Aristotelian philosophy provided me with the means of reconsidering and modifying my initial view. Aristotle views virtue as the mean between two extremes or vices. This is known as the "golden mean." (Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, trans. 1991) A virtue is never a free standing absolute, but relative to the context of human action. For instance, the proper diet for a runner will be excessive for an elderly, sedentary person. The right amount of discipline for a child will depend on the child, his capabilities, the neighborhood in which he lives and other opportunities and disadvantages to which he is exposed.

For leadership, the implication is that the action of a leader can be fairly judged only relative to his context. We live in a world of increasingly complex and numerous interrelated and interdependent contexts. It would seem that, relative to each of them, the particular decisions and actions of a leader could only approach a standard like the golden mean within one context at the expense of straying further away from them, relative to another. This very problem became painfully apparent to me in grappling with the abortion issue. Relative to women's rights, it seems that abortion should perhaps be an available option. Relative to the effects of legalized abortion on a society, the best option may be quite the opposite. Relative to the happiness of the father, the unborn child or fetus, the global community, and taking into account the economic and psychological implications for a huge number of very diverse people, the question seems unanswerable in terms of virtue ethics. In an absolute sense, this is true, but mindful of the fact that the golden mean is an ideal and, as such, functions only as a guide, I found that it recommended the direction in which contemporary considerations must tend within contemporary contexts.

Admittedly, the fewer the number of factors we consider, the easier the decision is to make and justify. On the other hand, excess parsimony usually leads to poor decisions. Given the number of relevant factors that enter into decisions which must be made in a world as complex as the one in which we live, there seems to be only two alternatives. Either we must try to consider more than is possible for the human mind to embrace or arbitrarily pick a few that we subjectively favor.

There is a third alternative. I take it to be the necessary path a contemporary leader must follow to approach the golden mean as closely as possible within current contexts. The world is not going to change in terms of simplicity, so the mind of the leader must change, not in terms of capacity but in terms of complexity. Because of the increasing impact that we have on each other in these times, it is more important than ever before in human history, that leaders, whose decisions affect so many and so much more than ever before, become the arenas and the models for change.

Every journey has a point of departure. Every leader is born and socialized into a culture. Today, it would be more accurate to say that he is socialized into several sub-cultures. Sub-cultures have various means and ends, but they share cultural postulates. Republicans and Democrats will argue on how to reach a balanced budget and whether or not that should be the first priority of our government, but they both agree on the general process by which we should reach these decisions--a representative form of government. They will both benefit or suffer the consequences of the decisions at which they arrive through struggling together.

In a global community seen from within the framework of virtue-based ethics, the leader must embrace the possibility that other means, ends and postulates are superior to his own. He must be open minded, but not so open minded that he easily and carelessly discards his own conceptual framework. It is the only ship he has to begin his journey across the often-dangerous waters of global complexity.(1) But the ship on which the long journey begins, his own cultural and personal assumptions, will wear out over time and it must be continually repaired, modified, and rebuilt. Fortunately, although the work is difficult, the materials are readily available. They are the cultural and personal assumptions of those with whom he lives.

The leader has a responsibility for his conceptual framework that is twofold. He must responsibly maintain his own views, guarding their strengths and modifying their weaknesses. He must also find ways to make them accessible to others. The leader must intentionally and constantly question his cultural inculcation and personal motives, his body of knowledge and his own emotional orientations, realizing that parts of them which may have been serviceable yesterday, might be inadequate relative to the context of today. He must not only be open to replacing parts of his conceptual framework but actively engaged in seeking those elements in the conceptual frameworks of others which will strengthen his own. In exchange, he must make his own conceptual framework open and available to other's consideration. This is as difficult a task as being flexible and willing to change his own assumptions because it entails the risk that others will point out the deficiencies in his own precious assumptions.

The literature gives weighty consideration to the difficulties of questioning, testing, maintaining and modifying one's own conceptual framework. It is difficult to learn to live in a questioning mode in the already uncertain world in which confidence in one's own views may be the only haven of certainty. Still, I have found from personal experience that the longer I live in this questioning and reflective mode, the easier it becomes. I have not come across this point in the literature, but it seems to me that this owes to the fact that the questioning process itself has become part of my conceptual framework. I view the world as a question that can never be fully and finally answered. Increasingly, I find happiness in the process and decreasingly in the content.

By far, the more difficult part of the bipartite responsibility for my conceptual framework is in finding ways to make my own conceptual framework accessible to others. Unless they, too, have made the questioning activity part of their conceptual framework, in blunt terms, sometimes they don't want to hear it. The common phrase, "that's a matter of opinion," means exactly that. It is a dismissal of any further considerations. The first step in exposing my own conceptual framework to others, then, is finding ways to interest and motivate them to listen and to consider. One of the needs for leadership in our complex world is a desperate need for fair-minded, critical thinkers.

The ways in which I approach this problem vary depending, not surprisingly, on the context. In some circumstances, I may use the emotions of others to engage their thought. Sometimes, I will invite consideration and criticism of my own views as a method of engaging others in the thinking process. It is seldom the case that, once critical thinking begins in earnest, one fails to apply it to his own assumptions. Other times, I "try on" other's views so that they are able to see them from a less personal perspective and judge them more objectively.

Coming from a rationalistic philosophical background, I tend to overlook or underestimate an important element of leadership. In addition to being rational animals, humans are emotional beings. "People who accept different points of view intellectually may have trouble with the emotions raised by this work. When the assumptions behind your models are exposed, they will often be flawed or incomplete." (Senge, Roberts, Ross, Smith and Kleiner, 1994, p. 240)

Until very recently, though I am ashamed to admit it, I used to wonder if people were so ignorant that most of them believed philosophy and psychology were synonymous. I spend a great deal of time listening, not to the objective reasons people offer as justification for their opinions, but to expressions of their frustration, pain, anger, fear and disappointment. Knowing that I am a philosopher, I could not understand why they continue to approach me with their subjective concerns in hand and assume that I am capable of holding them in my own.

I began to comprehend what was occurring while reflecting on the comments that came out of my recent interview with a contemporary leader, in the context of comments made by Ronald A. Heifetz, in his book Questions Without Easy Answers. (1996) The leader I interviewed is the CEO of a company that houses personal and commercial Internet homepages. The number of personal homepages on the Internet is growing at a phenomenal rate. Although the primary concern of his company is profit, this company is also providing a technological medium that is fueling and molding cultural change all over the world. When I asked him to what he attributed the popularity of personal homepages, he listed several factors including arrogance, loneliness, vanity and social isolation. Almost all of the factors he listed could be categorized under the heading "emotional needs" and evidence the claim that "... the need for human connection is fundamental." (Viorst, 1986, p. 29)

Heifetz borrows the term "holding environment" (p. 104) from psychoanalysis and uses it to signify a relationship in which problems that have no apparent solutions come to be defined and learning can occur so that good solutions can eventually be developed. His discussion of the implications of this concept assumes that a holding environment, if it is created, exists within the bounds of the relationship in which the problem arises.

Peter Senge criticizes "The implicit assumption...that a problem symptom can be controlled by a remedy closely related to the symptom." (Senge, p.142) My personal experiences and the explosion of Internet homepages are two areas of indication that there is no necessary proximity between a problem and the holding environment that is created in response to the emotional need it causes. When a holding environment does not accompany the locus of the problem, people look for it in other places. They express themselves through their homepages because they are unable to form holding environment relationships with the people they encounter in their daily lives. They find people who will listen to and validate their feelings on the Internet. They create a holding environment with me because they have not found one elsewhere or because the ones they have found are not adequate. The amount of time I spend listening to others owes nothing to my academic training. Rather, it is indicative of our contemporary failure to meet a basic human need.

This need is also evident in the occurrence of alexithymia, a relatively widespread communication disorder. The patient presents with difficulty expressing his emotions in words. Etiologically, this may owe to neurological deficit, sociocultural factors, or perhaps some combination of the two. "Nevertheless, it is clear from the large body of clinical observations...that an identifiable problem exists--whether individually or societally--in the management of feelings. The existence of a phenomenon like alexithymia underlines the importance of the capacity to feel emotion in the functioning of human beings and suggests that it is just as important as the capacity to see, hear, or smell. (Kets de Vries p.71) If the need to express our emotions in words is as important to human functioning as our perceptual capacities, it is also as important as our rational capabilities. A human being is, essentially, a perceiving being, a thinking being, but also an emotional being. Denying the emotional needs of the human creature undermines the full realization of his human potential just as certainly as does inadequate education or poor nutrition. "Until we find ways to guard our mental and spiritual health as well as our "social ecology" (that is, our interrelational environment), we will only compound our troubles and further destabilize our future. As Bellah as warned: "Unless we begin to repair the damage to our social ecology, we will destroy ourselves long before natural ecological disaster has time to be realized." (Swenson. 1992, p. 35)

Viewing myself solely as a philosopher, I overlooked the implications of leadership. A philosopher keeps his distance from subjective, individualistic issues. To consider them would taint his objectivity. Philosophers realize, of course, that total objectivity is total ignorance. A philosopher, especially a rationalist, is a subject and cannot completely bracket out his own subjectivity. He considers this as a limitation, in the pejorative sense, of philosophical inquiry in the less-than-ideal world.

On the other hand, although objectivity is among the perspectives of a leader, he also realizes the import and impact of human emotions on the activity of leadership. Unlike the rationalist philosopher, he cannot bracket them out because they are an essential element of leadership.

A leader must be vigilant of the emotional component in the lives of others as well as the margin in his life. If he intends to continue to lead others, he must assure that he has adequate personal energy and resources and that they are not excessively drained by demands that are placed on him. For a leader, the negative margin of the people with whom he works is part of his load. In sharing his resources with the members of the group that he leads, their negative margin is reduced and, consequently, so is his own.

People approach me, then, both as philosopher and as leader. They look to the objective analytical skills I bring to the table by virtue of being a philosopher, but they also look to me to be a holding environment for the emotions that accompany change in their lives and in their organizations.

In addition to being formed by his emotions and the emotions of the group in which he practices leadership, the leader is the product of his own and other's perceptions. How he perceives himself is conditioned upon how others have seen him and how others perceive him is conditioned by how he perceives himself. For the leader, this means that introspection and self-critique are essential to his aspiration towards the ideal. It means that his understanding and critique of others is crucial to the same aspiration. Only the leader who understands the interrelatedness of the whole group can appreciate the effect that he has on them and that they have on him. Leadership entails responsibility for self and others, not only in the identified leader but also in each member of the group within which leadership takes place and develops. Leadership implies not only the interrelatedness of persons but also their common direction. Most often this is referred to as their "goal" and successful leadership is taken to be the accomplishment of that goal. This is a shortsighted concept of leadership.

Certainly groups which we can analytically distinguish as leaders and followers achieve terminal goals, but leadership affects them both far beyond this terminus. First, the process of reaching for terminal goals changes all those who participate in the quest for them, whether or not they attain the goal. John Dewey refers to the process of communication itself as a set of "transactions" (Dewey, 1981, p. 224) and leadership theory alludes to this phenomenon in using the term "transactional leadership." Failure to attain a terminal goal is often just as productive, sometimes even more productive, than attaining it. There may be more value in the reaching, growing process than in the goal that a group achieves.

City government is one example. The goals are a balanced budget, well-maintained roads, the implementation of efficient urban planning, and more. Yet, each of these specific terminal goals is only a part of what city government achieves and failure to reach a terminal goal is not always a failure in leadership. When we fail to meet a terminal goal, leadership has not necessarily failed. Overarching all terminal goals is the direction in which the city is moving. The goals are only indicators of that direction and in relation to terminal goals, failure as much as success indicates a direction. Leadership is not the giving of directions; it is the facilitation of directedness.

Another term for the direction in which an organization or an individual is headed is "vision." Commonly, a leader is assumed to possess a vision towards which he attempts to mobilize a group of people. If, as I have maintained, leadership is not the giving of directions, then neither is it the mobilization towards a given vision. In one study, people who had been described as visionaries were asked to articulate their vision. (Daloz, Keen, Keen & Parks, 1996) Instead of specifying the vision of an individual, they tended to describe participatory conditions in which visions emerge in the context of changing circumstances. Leadership does not entail a vision. Leadership is the communal process of envisioning.

My view of leadership assumes that state of the whole is dependent on the state of its parts. This is true of healthy group relationships as well as pathological forms of organization. If the foot is gangrenous, the body cannot be healthy. Whatever is lacking in the leader will be manifested, because of that lack, in the group. Whatever is lacking in the group will be manifested, because of that lack, in the leader.

Within this framework, leadership, is not a relationship because there are no actually separable individuals to relate. Leaders and followers are analytical separations of a whole into parts for the purpose of understanding, but there is no actual separation of parts which need to be related. Leaders and followers are, in actuality, an inseparable whole. From this it follows that leadership is an activity of a group and that it cannot actually be separated from the dynamic interaction of the whole.

This general view of the world is termed "monism." One very important implication of such a view is that it allows the human mind to embrace more than it seemed, at first, was possible. If human minds are not actually separable, then we know far more than we suspect. This problem, as it was stated in relation to defining leadership and identifying leaders, is that if this is true, we aren't aware of it. We commonly think of human mind as belonging to one individual and not another. It has private thoughts and memories that are thoughts one can call into awareness. I think, instead, of human mind as one thing and what we commonly consider to be individual minds as the various thoughts and memories of that one mind. When we communicate with each other, it is like calling the experience of the individual from memory to present awareness. In communication we make others aware of what we are thinking.

Monism is a mental model that is particularly suited to leadership in our contemporary context. A recent study of individuals with long term commitments to a common goal found that "A part of the positive image of self (which is) reflected in committed lives is a sense of connection and right proportion, often cultivated, we found, in contact with the natural world." (Daloz et. al., p.147) There is less warrant for the individual to be concerned over the magnitude of complexity in contemporary society when the individual is seen as an inseparable part of a whole. Understanding is something we achieve together, not in isolation from one another. What is beyond the ability of the individual mind is within the grasp of human mind, as an inseparable whole. Yet, monism does not destroy the value of the individual and is not, therefore, a threat to American individualism and pluralism.

An analogy is sometimes illuminating. It takes many different kinds of things to build a house. It requires wallboard, nails, screws, doorknobs, glass, bricks, concrete, and so forth. In fact, it requires many of these items in a variety of sizes and shapes. No one of these materials, by itself, is a house. A house cannot be constructed of a large quantity of any single part. A brick is not a house and no number of doorknobs can be attached so that the end result is a house. The parts required to construct a house are different, but in the final product, they cannot be separate. Similarly, a variety of people, with their varying talents, perspectives, concerns, opinions, and all else that makes them identifiable as individuals, constitute the monistic whole. Monism takes diversity to be necessary. Without diversity, no unity could exist.

In order to gain a more complete picture of the whole, a leader must attempt to see the world from the perspectives of others and he encourages others to learn this skill. However, the purpose of this exercise is not and can not be to convince others of the superiority of the leader's own conceptual framework or mental model. At best, conformity of conceptual frameworks is only a "pseudocensus." (Peck, 1993, p. 307 ) Rather, "Meaning is seen to arise in the dialogue (emphasis added) of perspectives in and between individuals within the reality which they create and in which they exist." (Hennestad, 1990, p. 275)

Our Cartesian-oriented individualistic vocabulary and the fragmentation of Western culture are a challenge to the attempt to express and understand leadership in holistic terms. Given that this is the language of our culture and highly influences the way we view the world, a good part of the work ahead is, metaphorically, finding a way to express in Greek what has only been said in Hebrew. I have the confidence that it can be said and that it will, in some sense, change our views to more holistic ones, but this challenge is a good part of the work that lies ahead for leadership. Fortunately, I believe I see progress towards this goal coming from every field of inquiry. In science, quantum physics underscores the impossibility of separating the observer from the observed. In philosophy, noetic intuition and intentionality are studies of the same basic concept. In religion, ecumenism is a newly emerging and rapidly growing trend. In politics, the global community implicitly acknowledges the inseparability of economic influences. In business, the shift in emphasis to open systems theories of organization is a step in the same general direction. Across the disciplines, we are beginning to realize that a large part of the problem of dealing with increased complexity owes to the reification of our analytical separations.

One difficulty monism encounters is that it implies a scope of responsibility that most people do not share. Consequently, some people see me as "sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong." Others question my motives for getting involved in issues or functions that do not impact me.

Recently, I helped two individuals through the political process of addressing a policy that they felt was unfair. Personally, I do not believe that the policy is unfair, and when it affected me, I willingly complied with it. Various individuals have tried to justify the policy to me. They inferred from the fact that I was assisting others in challenging the policy that I, too, was against it. They are confused when they hear me agree with their justifications. I explain that, although I have no personal dispute with the policy, the individuals I have been assisting are very strongly against it and my role has been to assist them in pursuing the matter through appropriate channels. Judging from the responses and comments that have gotten back to me, many of my detractors have decided that I must be encouraging the dissenters in order to express some other frustration I have with the organization, vicariously.

It has been fascinating and sometimes saddening to observe the actors involved in this issue. In fact, I was appointed for the specific task of conflict resolution by the very organization this individual is challenging. In response to an action this organization had taken, conflicts had not only arisen but also reached such fervor that the organization became concerned that the situation would result in physical violence. I was not appointed to squelch the dissenters but to assist in empowering them, through the development of creative alternatives that were more appropriate than violence, to express and address the issues. Because there were various people and issues that needed to be addressed, I developed several different avenues for addressing a wide variety of issues. Only this particular issue needed to be addressed through political process. The organization applauds the way I have handled all of the issues, including this one, despite the vigorous challenge I have helped foster to this particular policy.

As a paradoxical consequence, then, the monistic mental model that implies more interconnectedness between individuals can also separate me from them. I am sometimes painfully aware of how different my world-view is from most of the people with whom I work and from most of my society. Monism can create a social and emotional distance from many of the people with whom I work. When I note that people often misunderstand me, I mean not only that they may find me incomprehensible but also that, as a consequence, they sometimes discount and invalidate me. Leadership in general, and monism in particular, has an emotional impact to which it is crucial that I attend, if I am to continue as a leader within this paradigm. In terms of organizational and social outcomes, monism can be very effective. In terms of my own emotional needs, consistent adherence to monism can be emotionally draining.

The only solution I have ever found to the difficulty of being misunderstood has come from getting to know my opponents and critics better. It is often the case that individuals and groups change their initial opinion of what I do and my reasons for doing it, over time. A relationship with one organization began with the animosity of some of the same people who, two years later, signed their names to an award that hangs on my office wall. It was given to me for the very thing they resented, in the beginning. Another organization, in which individuals held opinions that were the exact opposite of my own on a particular issue, vigorously sought to bar my actions. They lost that challenge, but those same individuals later hired me to resolve a labor/management dispute that had nearly reached the point of a labor strike.

The reward for "sticking my nose in where it didn't belong," for acting on my monistic assumptions, is seldom absent. However, a wait of two or more years is too long to wait, in relation to my immediate emotional needs. The realization of this fact is what I think is expressed in a question that is often made to me: "Where do you get the energy?" Until I began reflection for this paper, I could not have answered that question. Obviously, I have adequate energy to continue in my leadership activities, but I have wondered from where it came, as well.

In reflecting on the question, I think I may have discovered a partial answer to it. Although I may work and wait for months or years for the reward at the end, I am never involved in one issue at a time. The rewards from my involvement in some areas come during my involvement in others, and they create the energy I need to sustain my work in issues that are not yet rewarding. For me, leadership is a self-perpetuating activity. The emotional rewards from involvement in one issue fuel my involvement in others. In turn, they eventually provide fuel for other leadership activities.

There are other consequences of my monistic conceptual framework. I sometimes hold others to be responsible for situations and events to which they do not see themselves as related. I hold myself responsible for situations and events to which other people to not see me as related. One of the most crucial aspects of this concept of leadership, then, is forgiveness.

Personally, I have an easier time forgiving others than forgiving myself. Some have an easier time forgiving themselves than they do others. Sometimes we forgive too early, sometimes too late. But learning the art of criticism without condemnation is necessary to discovering each other as inseparable and valuable parts of a complex whole. Given the inevitability of falling short of the ideal, together with my monistic worldview, it follows that if we cannot learn forgiveness, we will never survive to realize our unity.

Leadership as an ideal cannot be manifested in pure form in the familiar world of actual existence. There are no ideal leaders, only actual ones. Actual leaders inevitably fall short of manifesting leadership in its purity. This point is exemplified in the movie "Brubaker." It is a portrayal of Thomas Murlan's idealistic attempt to reform prison conditions in the Arkansas State Penitentiary in 1968. His efforts were thwarted not only by Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, but also by his own ignorance of the inner-workings of the prison community. Leadership is limited by the context of the leader as well as by the leader's assumptions, aspirations and blind spots.

At the beginning of this paper, I set aside the project of identifying particular real leaders. Using the concept of leadership that I have developed, I can now return to that project. A leader is one who changes the course of another's life, either positively or negatively. We speak of this effect as flowing from the leader's influence, control, authority or power. These flow from the individual leaders as well as from his context. We recognize some as leaders because they have changed our own lives. We recognize others as leaders because of the change they have effected in the lives of others. We recognize ourselves as leaders to the extent we are aware of our effect on the life of another. All of this identification rests on recognition, but the actual world is larger than our limited awareness. My favorite story for illustrating this point is found in the Old Testament. (King James Version)

Naomi had two sons. Both of them married women in another culture who espoused a religion different from the one in which they were raised. Naomi and her two sons lived in the homeland of the wives. When both of her sons died, Naomi decided to return to her native land and her daughters-in-law decided to follow her. During the journey home, she entreated them to turn back. They were young and could marry again. Naomi was old and would only be a burden to them in a land that would be strange to them and in which they would not find new husbands. Naomi's own culture sanctioned intercultural marriages. One daughter-in-law returned home. The other refused to leave Naomi because of her deep love for her mother-in-law.

Because Naomi was too old to work and provide food for the two of them and because her daughter-in-law was rejected in her native culture, they lived from food that was gleaned from the harvested fields. The owner of the fields, Boaz, seeing how they were living, instructed his workers to leave more food behind to be gleaned. The Biblical book of Ruth tells the story of how the relationship between Boaz and Naomi's young daughter-in-law progressed, but in the end, Naomi and Boaz were married and had a son, whom they named Obed. Naomi lived to see her grandson but since she was an old woman when the story began, it is certain that she did not live to see the birth of her great-great-grandson, much less to glory in the part she had played in producing the adult he became. He came to be known as King David and his son built the temple, the remains of which stand as a reminder of the true foundation of this great city. Today, it is the religious capital of the Jews and a holy place to many Moslems today. It is the city of Jerusalem.

Obviously, Naomi did not produce the renowned King David of the City of Jerusalem, by herself. Just as obviously, King David would not have existed without her. If Naomi had not been the special person who engendered the allegiance and love of a young foreign widow, the world would never have known of King David or Jerusalem. To be sure, something else would have filled that geographical space and the hearts of contemporary Jews, but whether it would have been better or worse is not only beyond our knowledge, it is irrelevant to the point at hand. King David and the City of Jerusalem owe their existence, at least in part, to an elderly Jewess who was named Naomi. We happen to know that because of an historical record that was kept. If there was no record at all and Jews did not track their lineage, it would be no less true. Not only would Naomi be unaware of her contribution to history, so would we, but it would not change the actual course of events.

A leader is one who has an irreversible effect on the life of another. The necessary conclusion of a monistic world-view is that we are all leaders, regardless of the recognition or failure to appreciate the effects that we inevitably have on each other's lives. But we are not leaders, all of the time. Leadership is the emerging activity of envisioning that arises out of the interrelation of individuals in a group. When the functioning of the group is healthy, we identify individuals within the group as leaders, though many leaders may exist within the group that we fail to identify. When the functioning of the group is pathological, we decry a lack of leadership. We erroneously equate this with a lack of individual leaders within the group. Leaders and leadership are related. One is the function of the other. Leadership, however, is not the functioning of leaders. Leadership is the function of a group and leaders are a function of leadership.


Aristotle. (1991). Metaphysics. (Hippocrates G. Apostle and Lloyd P. Gerson, Trans.). In Aristotle: Selected Works (1029b). Grinell, IA: Peripatetic Press.

Aristotle. (1991). Nichomachean Ethics. (Hippocrates G. Apostle and Lloyd P. Gerson, Trans.). In Aristotle: Selected Works (1107a). Grinell, IA: Peripatetic Press.

Dewey, John. (1981). The Pattern of Inquiry. In John J. McDermott (Ed.), The Philosophy of John Dewey. (pp. 223-239). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Heifetz, Ronald A. (1994). Leadership Without Easy Answers. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Hennestad., B. W., (1990, May). The symbolic impact of double bind leadership: Double find and the dynamics of organizational culture. Journal of Management Studies, 27(3), 265-280

Kets de Vries, Manfred F.R., (not available.). The Leader as Mirror. In Leaders, Fools and Impostors. (pp. 5-87). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

King James Version, Ruth 1:6-2:42.

Daloz, L.A.P., Keen, C.H., Keen, J.P., Parks, S.D. (1996). Common Fire: Lives o f commitment in a complex world. Boston: Beacon Press.

Peck, Scott. (1993) Rewalking the Tightrope. In A World Waiting To Be Born. New York: Bantam.

Plato. (1981). Euthryphro. (G.M.A. Grube, Trans.). In Five Dialogues (5d). Indianapolis: Hackett.

Plato. (1981). Meno. (G.M.A. Grube, Trans.). In Five Dialogues (80d). Indianapolis: Hackett.

Senge, Peter M. (not available). Systems Principles for Leadership. In unavailable (pp. 133-157). Unavailable: Unavailable.

Senge, Peter M., Roberts, Charlotte, Ross, Richard B., Smith, Bryan J., & Kleiner, Art. (1994). Strategies for Working with Mental Models. In The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization. (pp. 235-253). New York: Doubleday currency.

Swenson, Richard. (1992). The Pain of Progress. In Margins. (pp. 21-37). Colorado Springs: Navpress.

Viorst, Judith. (1986). The High Cost of Separation. In Necessary Losses (pp. 21-33). New York: Simon and Schuster.

(1) Otto Neurath originally referred to the ship in his paper, "Protokollsaetze," in Erkenntnis 3 (1932) : 204-214. This essay is translated by George Schlick, see "Protocol Sentences" in Logical Positivism ed A.J. Ayer (New York: Free Press, 1959) : 199-208, esp. 201. It is W.V.O. Quine's use of it to which philosopher's commonly refer. It is a mainstay of his later writings and appears as an epigram at the start of Word and Object (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960) : vii. I am unsure of his first use of it, but it appears in "Identity, Ostension, and Hypostasis," originally published in the Journal of Philosophy in 1950. This paper was later reprinted in From A Logical Point of View 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961/1980) : 65-79.


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