I had been musing about why it was so difficult to “do” collective leadership when its benefits were so evident. My epiphany came just after I had joined Manchester Business School in 2006 when I saw Richard Dawkins’ 30th Anniversary edition of “The Selfish Gene”. Having purchased and devoured it, I realised it is because we are all innately selfish – the survival of the fittest.
If leaders were selfless in all parts of the globe, this would be an impossible ideal, but we need to start somewhere. An excellent place to start is the beginning. I have used my six Intelligent Leadership Questions (ILQs), influenced by Rudyard Kipling’s Six Honest Serving Men (sic), to review the history of leadership practice, thinking and theories.
The When question is the first ILQ, which I briefly introduce today.
Leadership predates the emergence of humankind, for example, from animal origins and pecking orders, seen most significantly with the dominance effects in primates. From my initial research, I drew on what I call the Old World Leaders (OWLs ), which includes (but does not necessarily begin with) the Greek Philosophers.
We can, of course, learn from many of these OWLs (particularly those who were wise) just as much as we can avoid, at all costs, the worst of the despots. As with many old sayings, the following originates from spiritual scripts. Let’s ask, for example, Is this about putting new wine in old bottles?
‘Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish, but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.’
Matthew, ix, 17
I have argued elsewhere that leadership style is often a matter of preference, just like old-world wines versus new-world wines.
Our news this week is full of examples in which both the best and the worst of leadership and a total disregard for human life can come to the fore. Elsewhere, I draw on Philip Zimbardo’s classic research, published as “Why do some good people turn evil?”.For now and in the immediate future, I will stay with the OWLs. I will then move more towards New World Leaders (the NWLs) and ultimately draw distinctions with our experiences today through Global World Leaders (the GWLs).
A question I pose for reflection is adapted from Thomas Hobbes’s The Leviathan, who was writing during the Civil War in England. He asked of the life of human beings in the state of nature, which is the condition before any government or society is formed, whether that life comprised of no security, no industry, no arts, no letters, no society and would live in fear and danger of violent death.
The phrase “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” was said by Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher who wrote the influential book Leviathan in 16511. He used this phrase to describe the life of human beings in the state of nature, which is the condition before any government or society is formed. Hobbes argued that, in the state of nature, there would be a constant war of all against all, where people would have a total absence of security, industry, arts, and letters and no society, existing in fear and danger of violent death.