How does a scholarly field emerge? Obviously in different ways, from the relatively quick-forming and organized to the slow-burning and haphazardly coalescing. A perfect example of the first category is the philosophical (and rather ecocentric) school of speculative realism (cited earlier), which has a precise starting-point (a 2007 University of London conference), numerous “charismatic” advocates (e.g., Graham Harman, Quentin Meillasoux, Ray Brassier), a strong Internet presence, and many adherents (Bryant, Srnicek and Harman 2011). ELS, on the other hand, appears to belong to the set of disciplines that have emerged slowly and inchoately, as suggested by the following review.
According to my literature search, the first scholarly work explicitly focusing in a relatively sustained and systematic way on the question and phenomenon of environmental leadership is the multi-authored Environmental Leadership: A Sourcebook for Staff and Volunteer Leaders of Environmental Organizations (1984d), with philosopher-environmentalist Stuart Langton editing the work and also writing and co-writing a number of the essays. The present review focuses on the first two chapters and briefly refers to the Introduction, all written by Langton. In the Introduction, he states that his volume “is not a scholarly work,” given that it’s “primarily written by and for environmental activists” (1984a: ix), a function clearly stipulated by the book’s sub-title - though, as I’ll show, there are some very scholarly dimensions to Langton’s writing.
The first chapter is poignantly titled “The Future of the Environmental Movement” (Langton 1984b). The author rightly observes how the movement in America has been transformed from something more charismatic to something more institutionalized (Weber 1947, 1967), and while others view this transformation with suspicion (including myself, to a certain degree), Langton optimistically/naïvely regards it as a “success” (1984b: 4). During his description of this transformation, he notes: “it is a movement less marked by inspirational leaders and more dominated by leaders who manage” (1984b: 4). Straightaway, we ask whether this notion of “leaders who manage” is not a contradiction, and if not, why not. According to the general theory of leading I formulated in Following Reason and have drawn upon to outline a theory of eco-leading here, leading and managing are different and not synonymous. By definition, leaders lead and managers manage. “Leaders who manage” are not leaders but managers. Hence, if Langton’s observation of the 1980s American environmental movement rings true (as I think it does), then we’re forced to conclude that the environmental movement has been more managed than led, which means that basically anthropocentric situations are maintained in the relative absence of eco-leaderly contestation.
Langton’s apparent merging of managing with leading is all-the-more perplexing because, in the second chapter, he broaches the important question of their difference. He emphasizes that “the two terms are not interchangeable,” adding that “This distinction ... is very important for environmental organizations to understand because it clarifies some of their most common needs and difficult problems” (1984c: 13). Langton begins his analysis by acknowledging that the history of leadership and management theory is marked by a plethora of definitions and definitional disagreements. In order to distinguish the two notions-phenomena, Langton performs the classic scholastic move of retracing their etymologies, a strategy that proves to be very productive: he postulates that the word “leadership” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon/Celtic word laeden, which “means to travel, to go, to move in some way, to set a direction” (1984c: 13). Straightaway, we note that many conventional definitions express the notion of motion (such as Burns’s concept of “transformational leadership”), an idea that’s also incorporated into our formulation with the concept of situational change - though we add that leading can also involve situational maintenance, which is the very opposite of situational transformation. Hence, the etymological investigation is half-right: leadership is a moving, but it’s also a kind of stasis or defending-preserving whenever opposing leadership seeks to transform existing states of affairs.
Next, Langton notes that the word “manage” “means something quite the opposite” to leadership-as-movement (1984c: 13). The author explains how “The French ménage, for example, means housekeeping. A related word, manège, an equestrian term, means to bring under control, as in reining in and controlling a horse” (1984c: 13). Langton’s etymological investigation confirms my own proposition that managing is the maintenance of uncontested situations. Now, citing the likes of Burns and the pioneering French management theorist Henri Foyol (1949), Langton draws the following conclusion: “Leadership relates to directing or moving the organization to achieve some purpose or to serve some value. . . . Management, on the other hand, is concerned with maintaining order over the resources and practices of the organization” (1984c: 13). Langton’s summation of a/the fundamental difference between leading and managing at the organizational level - which I think is generalizable - is synonymous with my own; both of us have arrived at the same/similar finding albeit via different routes. We may also briefly cite here some other commonalities, such as our shared refusal to privilege one activity over the other, and the recognition that leading may often result in failure, but the activity still remains leaderly.
Despite its pioneering insights, Langton’s Environmental Leadership has rarely been cited by ELS scholars (notable exceptions include Foster 1993; Howardson 2006). While it’s not a sustained systematic treatise on the phenomenon of eco-leading, the book warrants more recognition, both for foregrounding the very notion of “environmental leadership” and for its incisive theoretical contributions, especially its etymological retrievals and definitional clarifications.
(As this retracing proceeds chronologically, we may parenthetically cite two works from 1985 here. The first is an article by environmental scientist John Lemons: “Conventional and Alternative Approaches to the Teaching of Leadership in Environmental Programs.” The second is a kind of directory or “Who’s Who” in environmental leadership: National Leaders of American Conservation, which was edited by fisheries scientist Richard H. Stroud. This was an updated, second edition of an original 1971 directory titled Leaders of American Conservation, edited by forester Henry Clepper.)
Another piece of writing that deserves citation is resource policy analyst H. William Rockwell’s 1991 one-page Commentary for the Journal of Forestry, simply titled “Leadership.” The text is short but poignant and hard-hitting: it begins by observing that there’s a failure of leadership and followership because selfishness reigns today rather than “groupship” — and, according to Rockwell, “Controlling selfishness ... is exactly what leadership is all about” (1991: 3). This is an extraordinary statement, and while I question whether it applies to leading at the general level (given that I claim that leadership fundamentally has to do with situational transformation/preservation), I think Rockwell’s formulation has traction when we consider that there might be a correlation between human supremacism and greed - an important question that I’ve suspended in the present work. Rockwell also rightly observes that “we call for leadership without understanding what it is” (1991: 3). His observation confirms the point I advanced in Following Reason and reiterate in this work that we need to better understand this phenomenon in order to more effectively practice it in its various concrete forms, including the environmental kind. Rockwell concludes by recalling the ethical dimension of (environmental) leading: “It is not just the ethical balancing of established precepts, but the courage and humility to divine, weigh, and balance ‘first principles’ in the face of tremendous uncertainty” (1991: 3). A balancing act is exactly what occurs with Earth-centered-ness: we work in tensions like maximal allowing and minimal intervening, and seeking to fulfill human and non-human needs.
The next notable early work in the field of ELS that I located is a two-volume 1992 publication edited by Donald Snow, a committed environmentalist since the 1970s. He was commissioned in 1989 by the Conservation Fund (founded in 1985) to identify factors for increasing the effectiveness of the environmental movement. The project resulted in two works: Inside the Environmental Movement: Meeting the Leadership Challenge (1992), which collates and interprets data from surveys completed by leaders of environmental organizations, and Voices from the Environmental Movement: Perspectives for a New Era (1992), which presents articles from some of the participants. Somewhat ironically, while the first volume’s title explicitly refers to leadership, the second volume actually devotes more time and space to the subject, even though the contribution is not sustained or extensive.
I begin by briefly citing what is original and laudable about the two volumes. First of all, they categorically seek to identify and explore the relation between good leadership and effective environmentalism. Second, the two works are strongly empirical: they seek to trace what is actually occurring “on the ground,” especially with environmental organizations. The venture involved a survey and the analysis of data collated from it: this heavy empirical emphasis becomes a key characteristic of ELS in subsequent years; my philosophically oriented research therefore seeks to contribute to the relatively sparse theoretical space within the field. Relatedly, the Snow volumes seek to be eminently practical and translatable. (My work addresses this dimension with its provision of various eco-leaderly measures discussed in the previous chapter.) Next, given the volumes’ focus on organizations, the writings do not limit themselves to the individual agent-centered approach to leadership that was dominant in leadership studies at the time (and still somewhat prevalent), but rather expands the analytical frame to encompass (and primarily focus on) organizations: we could therefore describe the work as being more organization-centered than agent-centered.
Another promising aspect of the two volumes is that they occasionally draw attention to the significance of the political for environmental conservation and reflourishing. For instance, Snow identifies “the careful formulation of policy” as a key characteristic of environmental leadership, as well as “good government, and a massive realignment of ethics and economics” (1992a: xxvi). The instigation of the policies proposed by the present work would certainly facilitate a massive ethico-economic “realignment.” Snow also emphasizes how eco-leadership involves a combination of governmental and non-governmental action (1992a: xxxi): this is an excellent point, particularly in/for the present work, where discussions of “measures” or “policies” might be misinterpreted as strictly governmental actions. However, “ecocentric leadership” is not reducible to ecocentric political leadership. Ideally, it would involve a powerful mass movement, a process of leading-and-following.
One of the contributors to the volumes, Sally Ann Gumaer Ranney (1992), an environmental leader, also links eco-leadership with radical transformation. Early on in her essay, which focuses on the question of female environmental leaders, Ranney expresses what she considers to be the function of “dynamic” or great leadership, which no doubt applies to the model of eco-leadership advanced in this book: “The ultimate goal: to shift ideologies and actions and steer history” (1992: 110). Ranney also writes about “the power of spontaneous, ‘unprofessional’ leadership in communities, the majority of which is female” (1992: 124). While Ranney and I thus concur that a mass environmental movement may be required to foster eco-change, Aldemaro Romero, another environmental leader who contributes a chapter to the Voices volume, incisively reminds us that eco-leadership may not always involve mass participation, if we go by history: “The big changes in the course of history have occurred thanks to an elite corps of leaders who knew what they had to do and how to do it, and, most important, who to do it” (1992: 142). Mass mobilizations or democratic mechanisms may not always be required for eco-transformation.
We now briskly turn to some of the problematic aspects of the two volumes. While the Voices book is more reflective and contains some theorizing, the pair of books are insufficiently theoretical-philosophical. The two volumes rarely cite, critique, or develop existing leadership scholarship. None of the authors seek to define either “leadership” or “environmentalism” and other important concepts, or distinguish related concepts such as “leading” and “managing.” In terms of this last question, this is especially surprising, given that Snow introduces the second chapter of the first volume (1992a: 33) with a lengthy quote from John Gardner (1990: 3), who questions the leadership-management distinction; despite the citation, Snow doesn’t take up this important question. Likewise, in his introduction to the second volume, G. Jon Roush (1992a), who later became president of the Wilderness Society, recites the famous saying by eminent leadership scholars Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus that “managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing” (1985: 21 cited in Roush 1992a: 13) and then asks “how is a leader to know what the ‘right thing’ is?” (1992a: 13). But Roush only goes on to cite three of the essays in the volume (which aren’t reviewed here, given that I’m only analyzing what I consider to be the most important works).
Another indicator of the theoretical “lightness” of the two Snow volumes is that words like “anthropocentrism” and “biocentrism” are rarely mentioned: Snow refers to the former once (1992b: 55), and while Roush refers to it in his main contribution - excellently describing it as “the unsettling idea that as a species, human beings are no more important than other species” (1992b: 8) -he doesn’t develop it. Likewise, Snow only refers to biocentrism once (1992a: xxvi). Despite the volumes’ flaws, however, one can’t deny the collection’s significance for ELS, testified by the fact that a number of important scholars cite the works (e.g., Foster 1993; Egri and Herman 2000; Gordon and Berry 2006; Redekop 2010a).
Another trail-blazing ELS work is a 1993 collection of essays by various authors edited by eco-scholars Joyce K. Berry and John C. Gordon titled Environmental Leadership: Developing Effective Skills and Styles (1993). As the sub-title indicates with its reference to agential “skills” and “styles,” the book is basically agent-centered: the text discusses the kinds of qualities that environment leaders would be said to possess in order to practice effective eco-leadership. Berry and Gordon offer two contributions to the volume: an introductory piece titled “Environmental Leadership: Who and Why” (1993a) and a concluding essay named “Six Insights” (1993b). (Note: while the edited book names Berry first, the introductory and concluding essays reverse the order.) Only the introductory work is reviewed here (the concluding piece is excessively agent-centered and approaches something like the self-help literature that blossomed in the 1990s and which has characterized much leadership discourse.)
To begin with, Gordon and Berry’s introductory essay is strong in terms of addressing definitional questions: early on in the piece, the scholars define eco-leading as “the ability of an individual or group to guide positive change toward a vision of an environmentally better future” (1993a: 3). Despite problems like the focus on change (we recall that leading sometimes has to do with preservation) and the ambiguity of phrases like “environmentally better future,” the formulation nevertheless has traction on a number of levels, such as the fact that eco-leading can/should take place at the individual and collective levels, which is a timely reminder, given that the present study essentially focuses on eco-leadership on the societal plane. Gordon and Berry then differentiate between “traditional leadership models” and the environmental kind. They insightfully observe how the conventional models have been most frequently derived from politics, the military, and religion, while contemporary leadership studies has been predominantly derived from business and industry. The authors concur that leaderly insights might be gleaned from these social domains, but eco-leadership demands a new kind of understanding, given that these same social domains have created a number of environmental challenges (1993a: 3). Gordon and Berry then register a variety of sensible characteristics of environmental leading, including long-term solutions, a recognition of complexity, science’s inability to provide total certainty, and the integration of various epistemologies and concerns (1993a: 4).
The next noteworthy essay in the Berry-Gordon volume is written by Charles H. W. Foster from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, titled “What Makes a Leader?” (1993). It’s an excellent effort that broaches key questions, proceeds systematically, and cites a number of great leadership scholars (e.g., Zaleznik 1966; Burns 1978; Gardner 1990), but it’s also marked by shortcomings. The author commences by recalling Langton’s etymological study of the keyword (1993: 13). Foster then admirably traverses through a range of leaderly features (including its “essentials,” “types,” “styles,” etc.). He also powerfully reminds us that leadership is often “dissensual”: “leadership can be expected to generate conflict, sharpen demands, strengthen values, and enhance motives” (1993: 17). This point resonates particularly sharply for us: given that a number of the proposed ecocentric measures are confronting and deeply disruptive, it’s reasonable to anticipate that genuine eco-leading will be resisted, which might/may involve conflict with the defenders of anthropocentrism and associated ideologies-systems (such as neoliberalism). Foster sagely observes how “The positive role of dissent is often overlooked and underappreciated in the normal human tendency to avoid trouble” (1993: 17).
Having outlined some of the fundamentals of leadership, Foster is now ready to engage with the question of the nature of environmental leading. According to Foster, eco-leadership refers to “any activity involving the management,
use, or protection of natural resources” (1993: 21). Straightaway, we note that this definition is problematic according to my general theorization, given that I contend that leading differs from managing. Furthermore, we note how the formulation remains heavily biocentric, given its focus on natural resources, which would exclude human and non-human constructed things like built environments. (Of course, one could also contest the word “resources,” but we’ve insisted that ecocentrism allows for a moderate amount of natural-resource use.) But there are also positive elements to Foster’s definition. For example, the incorporation of the terms “use” and “protection” parallel the notions-practices of eco-instrumentalism and eco-preservation (discussed in the previous chapter of this book). As he proceeds, Foster makes some other strong points, such as the need for environmental leadership’s translocal and transnational character -a fact that has become more evident with eco-challenges like climate change, which don’t observe borders. Foster also notes how environmental leadership will need to become “more consensual” (1993: 23) - this could be construed as contradictory, given that Foster had emphasized leadership’s dissensual character only a few pages earlier, though one could counter that leading may/will be both dissensual and consensual. But despite any challenges associated with Foster’s brief chapter, I think it’s one of the best examples of not only early ELS research but of ELS research thus far.
We also briefly note the next essay in the Berry-Gordon collection, which is written by biologist Jack Ward Thomas and titled “Ethics for Leaders”: as the heading suggests, the engaging text focuses on questions about eco-leadership ethics. Thomas differentiates between personal, professional, and Leopoldian land ethics. He seems to be an ethical relativist, appearing to accept both anthropocentric and biocentric positions (Thomas 1993: 36-37), while the present work obviously takes - to use quite relativistic language - a less relativistic and more objectivistic stance (or perhaps somewhere between these polarities).
The next essay briskly summarized here is “Managing Conflict” by the environmental mediator Ty Tice. The most interesting thing about this piece is how Tice rightly recognizes how leadership has little to do with conflict mediation, noting that leaders and mediators are different (1993: 70). Indeed, Ty even muses how “Being forever in the middle has a downside. ... It is with some envy that I see the satisfaction some leaders derive from total commitment to the cause” (1993: 69). I do not dogmatically suggest that environmental leading would never involve compromise; however, accommodation does not appear to be a fundamental aspect, given that human chauvinism and ecocentrism are incompatible; they’re irresolvable oppositions. On the whole, environmental leadership is/would be an uncompromising phenomenon.
Another noteworthy essay is provided by forestry researcher Henry H. Webster. Titled “Lessons from State and Regional Resource Management” (1993), the first half of the paper focuses on the experiences of environmental organizations, but then it surprisingly turns to the reflective-philosophical question “How does leadership come about?” (1993: 119). Noting the vast amount ofliterature devoted to the subject, Webster- like a number of esteemed leadership scholars (e.g., Ciulla, Ladkin, etc.) - questions whether there’s any “central notion” of leading (i.e., a general or universal conception). Admirably, Webster’s speculation appears to move beyond the more restricted agentcentered and action-centered models that were dominant during this time. For instance, he provides the following intriguing proposition: “leadership may result from circumstances as much as from actions” (1993: 119). Given that our model of leading is somewhat situation-centered, then one could perhaps suggest that there appears to be some commonality here, given the overlap (but not identity) between “circumstances” and “situations”: “circumstances” perhaps suggests a higher degree of elements such as contingency and randomness -indeed, Webster judiciously identifies luck as a leadership factor - while the way I employ “situations” doesn’t run the risk of ignoring or backgrounding elements like agency, intentionality, and so on. Unfortunately, Webster doesn’t deeply probe this question - and nor can I, given the monographic limits - but the fact that he opens up this line of inquiry certainly demonstrates his sophisticated approach to the contemplation of leadership.
The next contribution in the 1993 Berry-Gordon volume that merits some attention in this semi-comprehensive survey is the essay titled “National Leadership” by forestry administrator Jeff M. Sirmon. Like many of the other pieces in the volume, Sirmon commences autobiographically and then reflects on the phenomenon of leadership. He states that “Leaders and leadership come in many forms and styles” (1993: 171). We note two important things about this seemingly “trite” remark. To begin with, Sirmon not only refers to leaders but also to leadership, thereby inferring that leadership is not reducible to individual agents: leading comprises more than those individuals who are “identified” as leaders (nor the followers who follow them). Next, Sirmon correctly observes that there’s a variety of leaderly forms - though we would stress that this doesn’t imply that we can’t identify any conditions or criteria common to all leadership phenomena (such as situational transformation/preservation).
Sirmon then notes how leadership styles have evolved. In the U.S. Forest Service, the dominant authoritarian style - which, he astutely observes, may appear questionable in some ways but was also highly effective (1993: 172) - has given way to more conciliatory approaches. For those of us advancing the claim that more robust eco-leadership is required (a point I’ve been gradually developing), Sirmon’s acknowledgment/confirmation of the effectiveness of more authoritarian methods is a welcomed change from the theorizing that dogmatically rejects any and all forms of authoritarian governance, thereby closing off the question of whether “wicked” problems might require more “wicked” leadership (a question too massive to be addressed here). Indeed, Sirmon himself rigorously speculates that “Leadership in government will become more difficult as competition between resource use and conservation becomes more intense” (1993: 183) - but he backs away from advancing any kind of stern authoritarian style. The question then remains whether a conciliatory approach will be effective, given that it hasn’t worked thus far (especially regarding issues such as pollution and climate change).
Sirmon also astutely notes that the nature of followers - especially in the forestry service - has also changed (1993: 182-183). He observes how followers/ employees in the forestry service were formerly more homogeneous (mainly male, similar backgrounds, etc.), but there has been growing diversity. Sirmon’s discussion of the evolving nature of followers is an important one, especially since leadership studies in general and ELS in particular (including this work) has often tended to excessively focus on the “leader” part of the leader-follower equation.
The next noteworthy essay in the Berry-Gordon volume is “Local Voluntary Organizations” by eco-organizational leader James J. Espy, Jr. (1993). Like Sirmon and a number of the other authors, he commences autobiographically and then turns to reflecting on the question of leadership. He identifies six factors pertinent to his experience as a leader: “job title, vision, inspiration, management, knowledge, and humility” (1993: 204). These are all interesting points for various reasons but I only summarily respond to two of them. To begin with, the first factor (“job title”) may/should be criticized, as leadership scholars have convincingly demonstrated that one’s position or office does not “maketh the leader,” so to speak (e.g., Kotter 1990a; cf. Manolopoulos 2019: 45-46). However, Espy provides us with a timely reminder that, insofar as leadership is related to agency and power, then one’s job title may facilitate leadership in certain cases. The other leaderly factor discussed by Espy is “management”: astutely, he concurs that “leadership (in its broadest sense) and management do require different skills” (1993: 206); however, as is the case with much leadership and management theory, Espy veers toward their fusion when he states that “successful leaders must. . . provide competent management” (1993: 206). But leaders provide leadership, whether competent or otherwise, while managers provide management, whether competent or otherwise.
Another noteworthy essay in the Berry-Gordon volume is “Academic Leadership” by natural resources and planning professor James E. Crawfoot. He explains how he has moved from an agent-based notion of leadership -“basically having the power and expertise to influence people” (1993: 230) - to “ways of being; it is actions that enable life” (1993: 231). He expands/refines this deeply philosophical (but still biocentric) definition: “I conceptualize such leadership” - and we could perhaps state that he’s more specifically referring to environmental leading - “as a circle of distinct but interrelated values and behavior” (1993: 231). There are various aspects to this circle but the one that immediately resonates with me is that leadership is “knowing what is and what could be” (1993: 231). This is one way we could describe my own general definition of leadership: it knows what is (for example, given situations are either predominantly anthropocentric or ecocentric) and what could be (anthropocentric situations could be transformed into ecocentric ones, and contested ecocentric ones could remain ecocentric). Crawfoot’s foregrounding of knowledge is reiterated when he goes on to cite it as one of the fundamental factors for “preparing for leadership” (1993: 243-244).
Another admirable aspect of Crawfoot’s contribution is his emphasis on situations. In a section titled “Specific Situations” (1993: 246-248), he turns to an examination of specific concrete scenarios and identifies leaderly activity therein. There are obvious affinities with the present work’s emphasis on situations. Now, I conclude my unfairly short summary of Crawfoot’s essay by noting his claim that “Leadership will be challenged to develop new ethics addressing inequity” (1993: 249): in the present study, “inequity” is understood anthropocentrically, while the “new ethics” is Earth-centeredness.
The short review of Crawfoot’s contribution concludes our retracing of the 1993 Berry-Gordon volume, but we may also quickly recall the book they wrote thirteen years later: Environmental Leadership Equals Essential Leadership: Redefining Who Leads and Hom (2006). First of all, I’m immediately struck by the title: the authors equate environmental leadership with leading as such, whereas I endorse the common/“intuitive” understanding (i.e., that eco-leading is a specific kind of leading). Hence, the Berry-Gordon equation between general leadership and eco-leading is a problematic one. Its problematic dimension is somewhat diminished when we turn to the book itself and note that the authors qualify and nuance the term “equals”: it really refers to the translatability of certain “themes” in environmental leadership to other leaderly contexts (e.g., business, politics, education, and so on). There might be some warrant in this proposition, given that all leading involves situational change/conservation, but any “translatability” should not be overstated: there are different types of leading precisely because there are qualitatively different situations to be changed or preserved.
To be sure, there are also strengths with the 2006 book. For instance, Gordon and Berry insist — like I do - that leading occurs in the most mundane situations and that we can learn much about leadership at this level (2006: xxv). The book also maintains the empirical thrust of ELS by including a survey of leaders from various social domains. There’s also a strong ethical dimension to the volume, and though it’s sometimes overstated, it’s a refreshing change from the excessively relativistic bent in much academic discourse. For instance, Gordon and Berry claim that “Ethics, a secure and clear knowledge of right and wrong and how to apply it, are a major and tricky component of leadership under uncertainty” and “Successful leaders operate from a strong ethical base” (2006: 3, 7). And so, while the 2006 book may be described as a mix of insights and shortcomings, it is - like the earlier 1993 volume - an important contribution to ELS.