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Thought Thursdays

 Globally responsible leadership is out of the closet

2012-04-17 00:00
By Frik Landman, CEO of USB Executive Development (USB-ED)

Globally responsible leadership is out of the closet and marching down Parliament Street (apply as a universal term, wherever leadership is located) to confront those elected and selected  as leaders who are assigned to lead and manage our society, our businesses, our world, and to call them to task. If we watch the march, there is however the chance of a cognitive illusion. If we think this march is only about confronting leaders in the traditional sense, we are gravely mistaken. Those who choose to follow by electing or selecting others (who choose to lead) represent the other half of the globally responsible leadership truth and that is to be globally responsible followers.


In more concrete terms: being responsible followers does not mean dutifully offering ourselves as voting fodder or as a means of production. We are not responsible if we get emotionally caught up in another’s charismatic vision or follow another’s ideology without thought. If we do this, we commit the immoral act of delegating our responsible citizenship to another, sacrificing our critical thinking for another’s persuasiveness, and reducing our responsible followership to the level of that of a child in a parent-child relationship. This is so evident in organisations and in society when we observe blaming behaviour. The blaming culture is a giveaway sign of a parent-child relationship.


Being a globally responsible follower is not a lesser task than that of the leaders we choose to follow. The leader and the follower are not in a hierarchical relationship: they are in a reciprocal, systemic relationship with leadership as something that emerges. So, it is not so much a matter of position but a matter of roles, each with its responsibilities.


If, as followers, we think of ourselves as subordinate to our leaders, this by no means imbues us with admirable humility. If anything, it reveals a lack of spirit and signals a kowtowing character. There is nothing unreasonable or unjust in being ‘critically loyal’, i.e. in maintaining our critical thinking, our right to address the de-railing behaviour of those who lead our constituency or citizenry.  To expect of ourselves and of others to stay loyal to the team, the organisation or the party and abdicate our responsibility is to flatter ourselves into the space of virtue, while, in truth, it is the space of mindless loyalty that we have entered.  Leaders who expect this type of follower behaviour can surely not be trusted, at least not as leaders and far less as globally responsible leaders. Leaders who welcome a responsible followership are indeed preparing and educating the next generation of globally responsible leaders.


It is when we take our globally responsible followership seriously that we may influence the transformation of our leaders into moral agents – and only then we may have the hope of a better and sustainable world.​

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