The Basic Conception
What, then, might be disclosed by carefully observing purported acts of leadership? In Following Reason, I commence with a mundane (and therefore relatively straightforward) example (2019: 17-18). Why an everyday example? Several scholars insist that leading takes place at this level. For instance, Burns rightly contends that “leadership ... is far more pervasive, widespread - indeed, common - than we generally recognize” and that “Leadership begins earlier, operates more widely, takes more forms, pervades more sectors of society, and lasts longer in the lives of most persons than has been generally recognized” (1978: 426, 427). Another prominent leadership scholar, John Kotter, confirms the phenomenon’s prevalence: “Leadership in a modest sense - i.e., leadership with a lower-case (little) ‘1’ - is far more prevalent and far more important than most people realize. Not flashy or dramatic, it rarely attracts much attention, and often goes unnoticed” (1990a: 83). And eminent leadership ethicist Joanne B. Ciulla prudently instructs: “scholars might be missing something about leadership when they study only exceptional types of leaders” (2004: 320). So we observe even banal cases of leadership.
The example provided in Following Reason is a parent taking their child on a walk (2019: 17ff). The parent leads the child: the child follows. But what is the parent doing, “exactly”? The parent leads the child from one physical location to a sufficiently different one (due to any number of reasons - which are irrelevant for our purposes of identifying any general conditions). Several remarks are required at this point. First of all, the notion that the parent classifies as a leader might appear strange or weird to us (Manolopoulos 2019: 18) because we typically identify leadership with grander acts; we normally associate leadership with “high-end” political, military, or business activity. But, as noted earlier, outstanding leadership scholars emphatically claim that mundane acts of leading are still leading. Next, we focus on what the parent is doing: the parent leads the child from one physical location or “situation” to another location or situation.
Before proceeding, we should briefly define “situation.” In Following Reason, I predominantly employ this word - though synonyms may include “phenomenon,” “act,” “event,” “state of affairs,” etc. - to describe a set of circumstances, ranging from “simple” banal scenarios to what I call “mega-situations” (2019: 23), such as complex global systems like neoliberalism (which is traversed in the fourth and fifth chapters). As stated in the Introduction, I employ an orbit of words for key concepts in this work not only to minimize repetition but also to suggest that no one word perfectly describes or “captures” what is being signified. But the term “situation” appears to be quite useful as the keyword because it easily encompasses trivial settings (such as leading a child on a walk) and “middle-of-the-road” phenomena (such as cultural events) but it may also be “stretched” to name the most serious social formations (such as political-economic states of affairs). As will be shown, “situation” is an integral element of the definition of leadership that I develop in Following Reason. (In that work [2019: 17], I also register my recognition that the notion of “situation” as a conceptual lens for understanding leadership phenomena is not a new one [e.g., Stogdill 1948; Hemphill 1949; Sanford 1950; Hersey and Blanchard 1977; Bass 1990a], but the earlier research doesn’t employ the concept of “situation” in the service of developing a general definition of leading in the sustained and systematic way that I do.)
Returning to our example, one observes that the parent-leader leads the child-follower from one situation to a sufficiently different one. By observing the mundane example of a parent leading a child, could it be that one discovers a condition or criterion of leadership phenomena? (Manolopoulos 2019: 17). Might the leadership act involve the attempt to guide the follower/s (in this case, the child) from one situation (in this case, one particular location) to a sufficiently different situation/location?
As stated earlier, we must also observe historic examples to determine whether they confirm the proffered condition of “sufficient situational difference.” The first “historic” example I identify and discuss in Following Reason is that of Moses (2019: 19; it remains irrelevant for our purposes whether the Mosaic exploits actually occurred). One can straightaway confirm that the Mosaic exodus is an exemplary case of leadership: to begin with, as with the case of the parent, there is a literal leading of followers from one physical location to another; moreover, the Mosaic leadership group also leads the followers from the economic-political situation of Egyptian bondage to the radically different one of liberation and freedom (Wildavsky 1984; cf. Sinclair 2007). Moses certainly meets the condition of sufficient situational change and even “surpasses” it, i.e., the situational change is not only sufficient but radical. And so, I posit that leading appears to involve attempting to sufficiently change the situations of followers.
There is obviously much overlap between this criterion and mainstream definitions, which emphasize movement and direction (e.g.. Burns 1978, 2003; Bass 1990b, 1997, 2007; Graham 1988, 1995). This conventional set of conceptualizations is nicely summarized by Ciulla with the formulation: “leadership is about a person or persons somehow moving other people to do something” (2004: 306). However, the crux of my definition is whether this “doing something” has led to a different situation for those involved. The concept of sufficient situational transformation somewhat “thickens” the standard definition (but not to the extent that this thicker conception no longer applies as a general formulation). We’re now on the way to developing a general definition of leading: one of its conditions appears to be sufficient situational change.
So far, I’ve shown how some leadership phenomena, from the banal to the historic, reveal that a basic criterion is sufficient situational alteration. But attempting to precisely circumscribe what constitutes “sufficient alteration” is problematic. Consequently, in Following Reason, I propose that sufficient situational difference is determined by the situation itself. For mundane cases, the sufficient difference is minimal, while the difference would be more substantial as the situation becomes more expansive and complex (Manolopoulos 2019: 22). While this general rule may assist us, we recognize that the question of what constitutes sufficient situational change remains quite a vexing one. In Following Reason, I return to the relatively clear example of the parent-and-child (2019: 22). We recall our proposition that what suffices as situational difference is a different location, i.e., the parent will have led the child if the parent has guided the child from one location to an adequately different one. But is there any line or border that demarcates when the parent and the child have passed from one location to a sufficiently different one? At what point in space-time have they moved from one physical site to an adequately different one? A few yards from the point of origin? A mile away? These sorts of questions recall us to the fact that the task of determining whether leading has taken place is often unavoidably imprecise and ambiguous - even when we analyze everyday states of affairs. However, I would add here that we may somewhat mitigate our concerns by noting that the imprecision associated with this measure might be counteracted when engaging with specific modes of leadership, such as ecocentric leading (i.e., whether anthropocentric situations have been sufficiently transformed into eco-centered ones).
In Following Reason, I underline another feature of the partially complete definition: leading involves an attempt to guide followers from one situation to an adequately different one (2019: 24-27). The word “attempt” is explicitly included in the formulation, and necessarily so: I contend that leadership may occur even when adequate situational transformation does not take place. The intent might exist and serious material effort might be made, but the leader or leadership group fails in the task of transforming the followers’ state of affairs. The task may be obstructed, for example, by competing leaders and followers who are more powerful. How do I substantiate this contentious proposition in Following Reason? I return to the parent-and-child example (2019: 25): the parent attempts to lead the child from one location to another but is impeded by inclement weather. It would be unreasonable to assess the parent as being “unleaderly”: the parent tries to lead the child to another location but is hampered. Failed leadership is still leadership. The leaderly action occurs even though it may be ineffective in terms of outcome. I also recall some historical examples to reinforce the argument that ineffectiveness does not annul leaderly phenomena. One of the examples I provide is Napoleon at Waterloo: does Napoleon’s loss imply that the Napoleonic leadership team was no longer leaderly by virtue of the fact of its loss at Waterloo? While Napoleon failed to win, he did not fail to lead (2019: 25). The fact that this leading involved losing doesn’t annul it.
Of course - and once again - a certain ambiguity marks the element of “attempted situational change.” What constitutes “a sufficient attempt”? But, as
I explain in the book, the difficulty of determining whether a serious, genuine effort has been made does not nullify the necessity of including this feature in our definition: otherwise, cases like Napoleon-at-Waterloo would not classify as examples of leadership (2019: 26).
There are obviously leadership theorists that would contest the proposition of “attempted change” and insist on “real change” (Burns 1978: 413-421; Zaleznik 1977/1992; Bass 1985, 1990a; Kotter 1990a, 1990b, 1996). As the present work unfolds, it becomes apparent that I, too, am very much in favor of leadership that produces real situational change (i.e., transforming anthropocentric situations into ecocentric ones and preserving ecocentric situations from anthropocentric contestation). However, any excessive privileging of transformational leadership leads to the distorted notion that actual change is the only/fundamental measure of leading (cf. Schedlitzki and Edwards 2014: 145). For if it becomes the overarching criterion, then we cannot continue to assert that phenomena like Napoleon-of-Waterloo are leaderly because they failed to create situational change. Indeed, as I’ll now show, sometimes leadership involves the exact opposite of situational alteration. How so?
In Following Reason, I repeatedly note that attempted situational difference is an incomplete formulation. So what else needs to be “added” to our formulation, which, in its present form, could (somewhat unfairly) be conceived as yet the following variation of “a person or persons somehow moving other people to do something.” In my book (2019: 27-28), I recall another WWII example of leadership to show the insufficiency of the formulation: Churchill (the name “Churchill” stands for the individual, the broader leadership team of which he was a part, and the group’s followers). Now, according to the first criterion of leading (sufficient situational alteration), it would be questionable to describe the wartime Churchill as leaderly: Churchillean leadership did not adequately change what may be approximately described as “the British situation.” What the leadership team accomplished was the defense of Britain from the competing Nazi leadership. In other words, Churchill maintained a state of affairs. Does Churchill’s maintenance of the British situation mean that he was not leaderly? No: the Churchillean defense is one of our most vivid examples of leadership.
Hence, what presents itself is the seemingly paradoxical proposition that an additional or alternative criterion of leading is situational maintenance - but this condition, on its own, would contradict the first condition. (I return to this significant point in the next section.) Therefore, something more should be added: recalling the Churchillean example, we observe that the Nazi leadership group competed for the British situation, i.e., it sought to invade it and transform it. So we recognize that the given state of affairs is contested. From this observation, I drew the following conclusion: leading also appears to involve attempting to sufficiently maintain the contested situations of followers (2019: 28). Leading may transform a situation, but it may also preserve it in the face ofcompeting leadership. So leaders do not always create situational change; they can also maintain contested states of affairs.
As with the measure of sufficient situational change, the conditions of “sufficient situational maintenance” and “sufficient contestation” are marked by ambiguity (Manolopoulos 2019: 29). I acknowledge that it may often be problematic to attempt to ascertain “exactly” whether/when a situation is adequately preserved or contested. Once again, this point demonstrates that our definition is certainly not clear-cut. But we should also recall the proposition that our concerns regarding such questions may be mitigated when it comes to theorizing and evaluating specific modes of leading: in the present context, measures like adequate preservation and contestation might be more discernible when considering purportedly situation-transforming/preserving actions by ecocentric leadership.
Another issue considered by Following Reason is whether the criterion of attempted leadership applies to preservational leadership (2019: 30). In other words, is an act leaderly even when it fails to adequately preserve a state of affairs? The book recalls further W WII examples to support the contention that events may be leaderly even when they fail to maintain situations. When the Nazis attacked various nations, a number of these countries valiantly resisted but failed to defend themselves; i.e., they failed to preserve their situations. The failure to preserve a state of affairs does not entail that leading does not take place; it simply means that the competing leadership succeeds in dominating and thereby changing the situation, typically because it’s more powerful in some way. It’s akin to the case of transformational leadership: just as leaders who fail to transform situations are still leaders, so, too, are leaders who genuinely attempt to preserve states of affairs but fail to do so. While Churchill led successfully against the Nazi onslaught, other leaders led unsuccessfully in their attempts to preserve their national situations, but they may still be identified as leaders. This nuance is registered in the definition with the word “attempting”: leading happens when leadership figures or groups seek to preserve contested scenarios.
Once again, this aspect of the definition can be ambiguous: while, for example, treasonous automatic surrender by WWII leaders would appear to count as clear-cut cases where a genuine attempt to preserve a situation was not enacted, I acknowledge that there are many cases when it’s much more difficult to determine whether serious preservational efforts have been undertaken (Manolopoulos 2019: 30). As with other elements of our formulation, “attempted situational maintenance” is an unavoidably problematic notion. But while there are unavoidable problems associated with this second condition of leading, Following Reason also foregrounds its significance for our understanding of this set of phenomena (2019: 30-31). This criterion or condition fundamentally challenges the predominant set of formulations which, in one way or another, foreground transformational leadership at the expense of preservational leadership.
By identifying contested situational maintenance as a criterion of leadership acts, we provide a fuller formulation of leading. For leading does not always involve changing situations. Recalling Ciulla’s reduction - “leadership is about a person or persons somehow moving other people to do something” - this “something” that is done turns out to be two diverging acts: attempting to change situations or maintain contested ones.
But how novel is the notion of preservational leadership? In Following Reason, I note that I’ve been unable to identify research that closely approaches or overlaps with the notion of preservational leading (2019: 31). Some prior research borders this notion (e.g., Zoller and Fairhurst 2007; Fairhurst and Zoller 2008; Levay 2010), but I think my theorization most robustly brings this dimension of leading to the fore. Indeed, by making it one of the two fundamental condi-tions/criteria, it challenges change leadership as “the prevailing discourse in leadership studies” (Schedlitzki and Edwards 2014: 145).
Now, it will have been observed that my dyadic definition of leading includes the element of following. In Following Reason, two of the chapters are devoted to this element: “Foregrounding Following” (2019: 53-71) is a relatively brief exposition of following as it pertains to my general formula of leadership, and then I present a sustained description of followership as it pertains to my specific model of rational leading in the chapter “Faithfully Following Reason” (2019: 97-135). The crux of “Foregrounding Following” is to insist on the crucial part followers play in the leadership process. Following the lead of a growing number of scholars (Burns 1978; Heller and Van Til 1982; Kelley 1991; Hollander 1992; Graen and Uhl-Bien 1995; Howell and Shamir 2005; etc.), I contend that following and leading are interdependent: the one does not occur without the other; each element requires the other. Such an approach steers a middle course between leader-centered models, where followership is ignored or downplayed (for criticisms, refer to, e.g., Burns 1978: 3; Heller and Van Til 1982: 406; Wortman 1982: 373; Hollander 1992: 71), and any hyperHegelian perspective that might risk framing followers as the leaders of leaders (e.g., Litzinger and Shaefer 1982: 78; refer to my critique: 2019: 57-58). Now, unlike my presentation of a sustained exposition of followership in the context of rational leadership in Following Reason, the present book does not undertake an investigation of ecocentric followership, as an engagement with this question exceeds the already-large scope of the study. Scholars are beginning to broach the question of eco-followership (e.g., McManus 2018; Brown and McManus 2018; Western 2018).
You may have also observed that the postulated general definition does not include any elements or criteria that would allow us to ascertain whether leadership phenomena are ethical or unethical. Why didn’t I seek to articulate a fundamental formulation that incorporates this dimension in Following Reason? First of all, akin to the way in which leadership occurs irrespective of its success or failure, leadership at the fundamental level occurs irrespective of its ethicality or unethicality. The ethical question is a “second-order” one: the “first order” has to do with whether leading occurs, while the un/ethical order is located at another level (2019: 21, 39, 50). What counts at the fundamental level is whether attempted situational transformation or maintenance is occurring. Fusing the two orders leads to conceptual confusion. For example, Burns claims that leadership has the “connotation” of being ethical: “leadership has - quite rightly, in my view - the connotation of leading people upward, to some higher values or purpose” (1978: 452). But Burns also concedes that “Presumably one can lead others downward - down the primrose path or down the road to barbarism” (1978: 452), so Burns acknowledges that leading may be unethical. Ciulla confirms this point: “great leaders in history include everyone from Gandhi to Hitler” (2004: 310). Even though Nazi leadership was evil, its unethicality does not annul its status as leaderly, precisely because the ethical dimension is a “second-order” one. And so, as strange as it may seem according to the common misunderstanding that leadership at the basic level is intimately bound with the ethical, a fundamental conception of leading does not require its incorporation.
But does the question of the ethical become more relevant when we seek to understand specific forms of leading, such as rational leadership and ecocentric leadership? I think it does: I posit that these two forms of leading are ethical forms of leading. (I also posit that these two modes of leading might amount to the same thing - but that hypothesis would constitute a whole other story and study.) But the question of their ethicality is complicated in the sense that it’s difficult to substantiate what counts as “ethical” and even how we may justify our “preference” of the ethical over the unethical. In Following Reason, I was compelled to suspend the question of whether rational leading is ethical, for two basic reasons. First of all, the ethical question (“what is good/better?”) was suspended because it is a daunting, expansive one, and would have exceeded the already-ambitious scope of the study. I point out (2019: 7) that there are so many competing schools of ethics (e.g., Aquinas 1947-1948; Nietzsche 1966, 1967; Kierkegaard 1987; etc.). As I ask in the book: “Which theory is right, or more right?” (2019: 7). So I bracketed the ethical question and instead progressed with the not-so-implicit assumption that readers might concur that rational leadership is (more) ethical while anti-rational leadership is (more) unethical - even though the nature of the ethical and unethical is unspecified. Now, in this monograph, I do sketch outlines of the beliefs and practices of anthropocentrism and ecocentrism, whereby I propose that the latter is more ethical than the former - or in “even stronger” terms: eco-centeredness is ethical while human supremacism is unethical. During my relatively detailed descriptions of these mindsets-systems in the subsequent chapters, this proposition should be borne out in certain ways. However, we must constantly keep in mind that the core aim of the treatise is an explication of “ecocentric leadership” rather than an explication of an “ecocentric ethic” (though the two cannot be neatly divided). Of course, an implication of “ecocentric leading” is that it is an ethical leading.