Democratic Leadership

Leadership is necessary – less than is claimed by leaders, but more than is imagined by those among us who have learned suspicion. The realities of individual differences, of divisions of labour and pressures of time – all require this simplification. Leaders must then be closely watched and controlled.

Democratic leaders work for their publics and use their power as a lever to democratise organisations.

Democracy is for fighting units and front-line workers whose institutions lose their responsiveness to user needs and actively prevent them from doing their work. Organisational democracy has been shown to operate effectively in rough terrain, amid stuck institutions with primitive conceptions of leadership and undermined by cynical calls for public empowerment. Such forms of leadership hold to the following proposition:

P1: Democracy is the most ethical, legitimate, effective, productive, adaptable, efficient and sustainable organisational form.

This informs a series of practical management orientations that have no alliterative acronym at all, but do point us towards:

  • Actively seeding, creating, facilitating and listening to public discussions.
  • Seeing themselves as intermediaries, rather than barriers, between institutions and their publics.
  • To politicise public decision-making and do so in a democratic way.
  • Designing and adapting organisational structures to refine, listen and respond to the preferences of their publics,
  • To provide and resource Assemblies and Councils using rotation and random selection. 

In addition, democratic leadership upholds:

P2: Substantive policy decisions must also preserve the future democratic capacity to make public decisions.

Here again unpacked:

  • Encouraging others to contribute their invaluable and often unexpected points of view.
  • Stepping back to allow laypeople to take responsibility, sharing tasks and power.
  • It’s not about you. It’s about them.
  • Use your democracy to energise and undermine moribund, hierarchic and bureaucratised institutions from within. Use parallelism alongside.
  • Convene assemblies and work together to open spaces for informed public discussion, providing information and recruiting expertise as required.
  • Resist the replacement of discursive spaces by a mistrustful and biased bureaucracy.
  • Be aware that your thoughts are not entirely your own. Power has ‘outposts in the head.’ Do not believe everything you think. Worry about your soul.
  • Note that institutions abuse people and then make that suffering invisible. It is for this reason that the worst thing most of us ever do is to go along with inadvertent oppression – at best committing crimes of obedience, at worst, basing our very selves upon doing so.

As agents of change, democratic leaders glance knowingly at each other in the hall. They need tech, marketing, law, political philosophy and art. Able to control their cognition and modify even their autonomic responses, they get ready for the mass refusals to come.

To SEGMENT 7: Incoming from Society