21st Century Leadership: the jury is out

April 29, 2014

The jury is out on the emerging leadership maps of the 21st century. In this first report, we hear the summing up by the judge dealing with the evidence of the rise of rational belief systems from the time of Plato to the 18th century enlightenment and beyondThe Judge

Members of the jury. You have the responsibility to evaluate the credibility of the case for and against the leadership theories of the 21st century. To do so, you have to assess the accounts of witnesses brought forward by the prosecution and the defense. The theories placed before you are: Level 5 leadership, Distributed leadership, trust-based leadership, creative leadership, positive leadership, authentic leadership, sustainability leadership, discursive leadership, visionary leadership, charismatic leadership, and transformational leadership,

The theories brought before you are those that have become more powerful since the start of the millennium. Before I summarize the evidence, I believe it will be helpful if I outline the historical background to these theories, and particularly the influence of the dominant rational model, accused of being the ring leader of the entire group.

You will recall hearing from several witnesses that the influential leadership theories of the 20th century were broadly considered to be based on a dominant belief system in the effectiveness of rational actions informed by rational reasoning. That is to say, leadership was the execution of rational behaviours by rational actors.

The advocates of rationality have pointed to the great advances made through application of such rational behaviours for over two millennia. Two thousand years, members of the jury. Rationality, it has been claimed, was worked out as a means of establishing truths about the material world, and the worlds of science and mathematics. Many centuries later a new philosophic approach to rationality was worked out which claimed it to be the key that unlocked human consciousness from a state of ignorance or unenlightened beliefs. You heard the philosopher Immanuel Kant state that [I quote] “immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.” In other words, enlightenment is the process of undertaking to think for oneself, to employ and rely on one’s own intellectual capacities in determining what to believe and how to act.

The French academician René Descartes gave evidence of his rationalist system of philosophy and of the objectivity which reveals reality. The Enlightenment is sometimes called “the Age of Reason”. Its leading philosophers followed Descartes’s attempts to deal with the issue of objectivity and the reality of what we perceive and believe to be true.

The enlightenment ushered in an age of rationality and modernity as science and the scientific methods of analysis helped in the advances in industrial practices. An age of modernity in thinking and creating had replaced earlier less enlightened ages.

By the 20th century, the scientific approach of rationality, if I may use a popular expression, appeared to be the only show in town. As I have explained it, I have not yet made an important point. The rational model has indeed been dominant for over two centuries. Dominant but not, if I am to be precise, utterly without rivals. There were other shows in town, and it is witnesses of these that were introduced by the prosecution, who argue that they remain muted as evidence of the excessive power being wielded by the dominant rational model in leadership theorizing.

I will now move to the ten theories and the evidence of the influence of the dominant rational model.

[To be continued with the judge’s summing up of the ten theories]

Level 5 leadership,
Distributed leadership,
trust-based leadership,
creative leadership,
positive leadership,
authentic leadership,
sustainability leadership,
discursive leadership,
visionary leadership,
charismatic leadership,
transformational leadership.

Expert witness statements

Matheson, Carl, “Historicist Theories of Rationality“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Bristow, William, “Enlightenment“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),


The public use of reason: a reflection on Kant’s essay “What is enlightenment?”

February 17, 2013

Immanuel KantTudor Rickards

In 1794, the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant [pictured] entered into public debate about the nature of state control and individual freedoms. His ideas are important today for an understanding the deepest dilemmas of leadership in public life

Two hundred years later, the issues raised by Kant remain with us. We are familiar with the dilemmas of unthinking acceptance of authority. Debates rage over individual rights of women to aspire to religious roles, gay couples to marry with the approval of the state or religious leaders, and the rights to free speech.

The nature of individual freedom

Kant was writing within a public debate over the nature of freedom. The ‘German enlightenment’ had defined enlightenment as the emergence of a society through reason from a condition of self-inflicted intellectual immaturity. He used a German term which has been translated as ‘nonage’ or a pre-adult condition. [These days we might consider immaturity or adolescence as related terms.]

He argued that in an Age of Enlightenment, there a possibility for human progress from nonage through the application of reason. Kant was no utopian believer in the emancipation of the human race from its largely unreasoning condition. He drew attention to several difficulties. Specifically he examines the roles of ‘Guardians’ who have a designated public role in which they sustain the institutions of state, including the established social order, [the monarch, or tyrant] the military, and the government officials.

Public roles and public duty

Kant illustrates how such public roles come with public duties: A military officer obeys orders, a cleric accepts doctrine, a tax collector has no right to challenge the principles behind the demand to the citizens to pay taxes. The public official thus has restrictions imposed on the application of reason to challenge publicly the offices of state. However, he sees how without reason and challenge, the institutions will ossify. He argues for the right of such individuals in public office to exercise reason privately to explore how the systems may adjust to changes over time.

Kant concludes that the state is advised to permit the exercise of private freedom to test and challenge the institutions and their functioning. An enlightened ruler permits freedom of articulating religious, as well as artistic ideas, as falling into the processes for sustaining the viability of the State.

The limits of revolution

The age of enlightenment gave intellectual impetus to radical and revolutionary disruptions of the old order [the ancient regime in France; the British rule in America]. However, Kant notes that any revolution will not sweep away restrictions to personal freedom, although they may replace a more repressive regime with one more prepared to grants to individuals to think what they like, as a Fundamental human right. He points out that such freedoms have mostly been feared by unenlightened rulers who have not seen that repressing such freedoms will eventually be counter-productive.

Meanwhile, today…

I find the ideas expressed by Kant more than relevant as I listen to the contemporary discussions raging over individual freedoms, the appointment of women priests and bishops, and the legitimacy of marriage granted by religious and political institutions.