London Saturday
24 March 2012

The Leadership Enigma

This discussion is the follow-on from the online collaborative writing project, initiated by A World to Win. It has benefited from international  and national contributions.

The aim was to address the big challenges of 2012: in particular contradictions in social consciousness/awareness.

We’ve seen the rise of new movements: Occupy, Arab spring, Spain’s Real Democracy Now, using social networking platforms.

The issue of leadership is hotly contested. People either don’t like talking about it, or it is opposed by those who advocate spontaneous organisations that stem from the ground.

We need to understand the relationship between organisation and leadership, taking in psychological and anthropological aspects of human nature.

We considered learning or teaching as a form of leadership, everyone taking on the responsibility as in ‘We are all Spartacus’, and understand that anti-leadership reflects opposition to hierarchies of power and lead to what others called the ‘tyranny of structurelessness.’

We need to deepen our understanding of the difference between changes from within: reform, regulation producing a ‘nice capitalism’, versus revolutionary change.


Summing up the talk, the emphasis was on starting a conversation with view to enlarging the network of people involved.

The discussion centered on key questions which we hoped to be able to further expand in other formats of communication. The questions for discussion were organised in five sections forming the first half of the talk:

  1. Do movements need leaders?
  2. Can networks deliver?
  3. Does leadership equal hierarchy?

The second half questions were:

  1. Democracy and organisations can they co-exist?
  2. Can you change the world without a collective strategy?

Conclusive answers were in short supply. However we all noted the importance of social movements in attaining a desired and/ or utopian society. How we defined leadership, what qualities or characteristics of good leadership were we alluding to?

We looked at historical events as well as leadership within parties and differing models of political persuasions from Marxist views to the neo-liberal agenda; the present economic structures that lead to the crises and plundering of the environment and society at large in all four parts of the globe.

Various models were referenced: Christian, Buddhists values or other religious persuasions; the ‘servant leader’, and the 12 Step Fellowship developed by Alcoholics Anonymous.

The uprising of the social movement is the result of people disaffected by their leaders in economic or socio-political terms, the current crises of moral, socio-political vacuum where leaders of political parties have offered no answers to the crises.

The disaffection by a people feeling the structures or organisations they have put their trust in have failed to represent, or protect their interests. How they have been largely vested in the corporations they seem to be indebted to.

The examples were unions which have hierarchical structures that are no longer servants to the masses of their memberships, but seem to have been co-opted by the corporations. While direct democracy through voting at mass meetings had a democratic potential and enabled workers to exercise their power in the past, the trade union movement as a whole has been unable to show ways forward to oppose the cuts. The masses are looking collectively for a different consciousness.

There was a split in opinion on whether movements can be effective without leadership, cited were the fact that the Arab spring came to be, but for the trail blazing efforts of a few who galvanised the masses’ disaffection and led to the change.

This was done by using networking platforms such as face-book, twitter to organise events, inspire and spread the idea. Can we truly say there were no leaders, or that they responded to the calling that each and everyone has, the attributes that are innate in all humanity, and responded accordingly.

As against those who thought leadership was "not needed", an opposite standpoint was that "There is no such thing as a leaderless movement. Movements generate leaders. Collaborative leadership could offer a way forward.”

The paradigm shift in human consciousness requires that each responds to the call and take arms (or use the tools innately available to all) to engage in their issues and change their circumstance. One speaker proposed a dialectical approach with “a fluid unity of hierarchical and horizontal structures; respect for, or openness to a variety of approaches in varying situations”. 

The use of networks to deliver change has been shown to be effective in galvanising momentum, but can it deliver? Here it was agreed that we look into tools to help further in engaging the rest of the 99%.

The following working groups were set up and everyone, including those not present on 24 March, is invited to become part of one or more groups. We agreed to reconvene a face-to-face event in June.

If you would like to be part of a working goup please contact

Working Groups:

Online platforms: Joe, Ana, Robbie, Valerie, Sylvester, Kuan

Earth stewardship: Bruce Mackenzie, Corinna, Penny, PJ

Networking: Frank, Gerry, Leo, Claudine 

Leaders/leaderlessness: Fiona, Paul, PJ  

Social movements: Ivette 

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