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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Non-Positional Leadership

The concept of non-positional leadership is typically associated with charismatic leadership.[1] The Hebrew prophets are a case in point, as none had any formal civic position.  To be sure, a non-positioned leader need not be charismatic; such a leader can be effective in utilizing persuasion to get his or her position (i.e., "vision") sufficiently adopted by followers to become the default.  Obviously, a positioned official, whether in the upper echelons of a large corporation, government, or religious institution, need not “stoop” to persuasion; power from authority can be sufficient for an official's will to be done. However, does that evince leadership or simply raw power?

          Gandhi epitomized non-positional leadership. He never held a formal office in religion or government. Is the strength of non-positional leadership necessarily moral?  Image Source: Idleindia.com
Authorized power is typically also reckoned as leadership, especially if the official’s decision is unpopular at first, yet quickly implemented and effective in the end. In fact, merely the stature of “high” position can give a decision itself the semblance of leadership. Modern society lavishes an extraordinary amount of credence on organizational position itself, regardless of the particular occupant. Such positional power, as distinct from positional leadership, is excessive, even reckless. For example, Richard Fuld was able to inflict Lehman Brothers with an overwhelming amount of risk, and for so long, in line with a warped “vision” and without having to lead in the sense of persuading others of his vision. To assume almost blindly that CEOs are not only “natural” leaders, but also persons of high caliber in terms of skill and character, simply because of their position is foolhardy and yet this is typically done in modern society.

1. On “non-positional” leadership, see David Burkus, http://theleaderlab.org/