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lst July 2007 | Draft

Emergence of a Global Misleadership Council

misleading as vital to governance of the future?

-- / --

Essential ambiguity of leadership and misleadership
Strategic leadership as essentially a "shell game" with potential opponents, followers and dissidents?
Avoidance of reference to misleadership
Unrecognized phenomena?
Criteria of misleadership
Exemplars of misleadership
Framing the interplay of leadership and misleadership: in the light of the coaction cardioid and the Mandelbrot set (Annex 1)
-- Distinguishing forms of leadership and misleadership
-- "Hidden" dynamic
-- "Real" vs "Imaginary"
Framing the interplay of (mis)leadership and (mis)followership: challenges and responsibilities (Annex 2)
-- Leaders vs Followers
-- Misleadership and misfollowership as characteristics of faith-based governance?
-- Image makeovers for misleaders
-- Principles of misleadership
-- Misleadership and misfollowership training for potential followers?
Humanity's need for great misleadership?
Appropriate celebration of "misleadership" -- and "misfollowership"?
Emergence of a Global Misleadership Council?


The challenges of the future are widely acknowledged to be complex. Whilst people, including potential leaders, are increasingly well informed, it is not clear that information alone is sufficient to respond effectively to the foreseen challenges and to those that may emerge unexpectedly (cf Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007).

The need for appropriate leadership is also widely acknowledged -- as are controversial assessments of global leadership in respect of intervention in Iraq and of non-intervention in regions where wholesale massacre continues unabated on the largest scale since World War II. Such strategic decisions may be interpreted as skillful leadership or misleadership otherwise to be characterized as incompetence. However it is also the case that strategic leadership calls for the ability to mislead opponents in order to outmaneuver them, notably through surprise. Where followers cannot be fully informed of the strategy in order to maintain surprise, or where they cannot be expected to fully comprehend a complex strategy dependent on a wide range of factors, leadership also requires skillful misleadership of followers.

The following argument explores the interplay between such dimensions of leadership and misleadership. It is not an apology for misleadership and seeks to avoid entrapment in a binary logic defining leadership as necessarily "good" and misleadership as necessarily "bad". It seeks to raise the question of what is to be learnt from the different framings of the Iraq debacle -- for leaders and for followers. Will the capacity to respond be more appropriate on the next occasion?

This exploration develops arguments of an earlier paper (Sustainability through the Dynamics of Strategic Dilemmas -- in the light of the coherence and visual form of the Mandelbrot set, 2005) and its annexes (Psycho-social Significance of the Mandelbrot Set: a sustainable boundary between chaos and order, 2005; Imagination, Resolution, Emergence, Realization and Embodiment: iterative comprehension ordered via the dynamics of the Mandelbrot set, 2005). As the most complex mathematical object discovered, it is appropriate to explore the use of the Mandelbrot set as a means of ordering humanity's ability to comprehend and respond appropriately to its most complex strategic dilemmas. The argument also points to the significance of traditional strategic insights from Asian cultures.

In the light of the above factors, the purpose of the paper is to frame the question of whether the present times are seeing the emergence of what amounts to a Global Misleadership Council. Whether or not this is the case, how should appropriate misleadership be cultivated, and distinguished from that of a more incompetent or malevolent form? What then are the complementary considerations for misfollowership under different forms of misleadership?

Essential ambiguity of leadership and misleadership

There is a danger to the binary judgemental logic whereby it is assumed that "leadership" is "good" and "misleadership" is "bad". This is especially the case since the leadership representative of one perspective tends necessarily to be perceived (and defended) as "well-intentioned" and that of any opposing group as "mal-intentioned" (or incompetent) -- and readily to be cited as a case of "misleadership".

It is useful to be clear of the ambiguity associated with notions of leadership:

There is similar ambiguity in the case of misleadership:

Leadership is typically associated with risk taking under conditions of uncertainty. In such circumstances, unfortunate failure may be inappropriately framed as "misleadership" -- although a pattern of failures may over time be so considered (more appropriately). Irrespective of setbacks, and the assessment by others of the leadership as "misleadership", the ultimate test is whether a challenging situation can be "turned around" -- a capacity much appreciated in business, whatever its sense of social responsibility.

Learning is itself more closely associated with failure than success. Failure raises questions that may result in new action; success merely reinforces patterns already learnt. This is presumably equally true of collective learning whatever the support offered to any leadership, or elicited by it. Misleadership may therefore offer the fastest learning track to a shift of awareness into a more viable (self-) critical mode of thinking (cf Engaging with Questions of Higher Order: cognitive vigilance required for higher degrees of twistedness, 2004). Significant learning through which new patterns of order emerge may be understood in terms of the self-referential dynamics of enantiodromia -- through which an initiative partakes of the nature of that which it initially opposed (cf Psychosocial Energy from Polarization within a Cyclic Pattern of Enantiodromia, 2007).

It is also the case that under certain conditions "not-leading" -- which may indeed then be interpreted as "misleadership" -- may be considered the most effective way of ensuring emergence of more appropriate forms of order (cf The Quest for the Socio-Economics of Non-Action, 1993). This is to be contrasted with forms of leadership (and micro-management) that involve degrees of control that may be considered excessive -- again to be considered as "misleadership". This is the issue of the appropriateness of "more government" or of "less government".

In summary, leadership is about running the risk of being assessed as misleadership -- before during and after the fact. Misleadership is a requisite of effective leadership. But misleadership is also to be understood as unsuccessful leadership, or successful leadership judged inappropriate from some perspective of the appropriate direction (perhaps long after the moment of decision when consequences become apparent). As with crime, evidence of any intent assessed (notably by opponents) as "malign" may significantly reframe successful leadership as misleadership.

Strategic leadership as essentially a "shell game" with potential opponents, followers and dissidents?

The following Figure 1 endeavours to hold and interrelate the ambiguities indicated in the previous section. It does not adequately distinguish the condition in which apparently competent leadership (in terms of strategic effectiveness) is subsequently judged to have been inappropriate to the challenge -- and as such a case of misleadership. To do so, "leading" in the table should be understood to be evaluated in the shorter term of immediate outcomes (Bush's "Mission Accomplished"), whereas "misleading" should be understood as including historical assessment in the longer-term.

Figure 1: Interdependencies of "leadership" and "misleadership"
. . Misleading
(subterfuge, secrecy, (re)framing, (re)presenting "reality", re-visioning,
image cultivation of attractors and repellors)
. . Inappropriate

(strategic operacy)

Skillful leadership rendered unattractive (and non-credible) by (mis)representation of challenges and opportunities Competent leadership vulnerable to inattentive cultivation of image and attractive alternatives Competent leadership skillfully reframing complex challenges and opportunities to render attractive and feasible (seemingly unacceptable) new forms of action
Inappropriate framing of "hands-off" leadership Laissez faire Skillful framing of the appropriateness of lack of leadership
Incompetent leadership (in denial and lying to itself) exacerbated by inappropriate framing of itself and its challenges (and demonization of dissidence) Incompetent leadership indifferent to cultivation of its image Skillful (mis)representation of incompetent governance

The table is indicative of the challenge to leadership of "things being other than they seem", whether the represented challenges, the actual resources, or the nature of potentially (emergent) new forms of order. It is in this sense that leadership is understood to be a "shell game" in which the opponents are deliberately misled to enable success -- and followers and dissidents are beguiled and distracted because of the difficulty of communicating in a timely manner the real nature of the challenges and opportunities (and the need for secrecy to avoid leakages and ensure surprise). Classic Chinese and Japanese texts (still favoured in militiary academies and business schools) have focused on the necessary stealth required for successful strategy:

Figure 2a: Table of Strategems
Adapted from Gao Yuan: Lure the Tiger Out of the Mountains:
the thirty-six strategems of Ancient China
(London, Piatkus, 1991)
(Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential)
. Assertion Denial Assertion with denial Neither assertion
nor denial
. When holding superiority For confused situations
Invention Cross the sea by fooling the sky [1] 

Besiege kingdom A to save kingdom B [2]

Kill with a borrowed knife [3]

Relax while the enemy exhausts himself [4] 

Loot a burning house [5]

Make a feint to East while attacking to West [6]

Steal the firewood from under the cauldron [19] 

Fish in troubled waters [20]

Slough off the cicada's shell [21]

Shut the door to catch the thief [22] 

Befriend distant state while attacking neighbour [23]

Obtain safe passage to conquer the kingdom of A [24]

  For confrontation For gaining ground
Rigidity Create something out of nothing [7] 

Pretend to take path A while taking path B [8]

Watch the fires burning across the river [9]

Conceal a dagger in a smile [10] 

Sacrifice the plum tree for the peach tree [11]

Take the opportunity to pilfer a goat [12]

Replace the beams and pillars with rotten timber [25] 

Point at the mulberry and curse the locust [26]

Play dumb while remaining smart [27]

Pull down the ladder after the ascent [28] 

Deck the tree with bogus blossoms [29]

Make the host and guest exchange places [30]

  For attack For desperate straits
Ambiguity Beat the grass to startle the snake [13] 

Raise a corpse from the dead [14]

Lure the tiger out of the mountains [15]

Snag the enemy by letting him off the hook [16] 

Cast a brick to attract jade [17]

Catch the ringleader to nab the bandits [18]

Use a woman to ensnare a man [31] 

Fling open the gates to the empty city [32]

Let enemy's own spy sow discord in enemy camp [33]

Inflict injury on self to win enemy's trust [34] 

Chain together the enemy's warships [35]

Run away [36]


Figure 2b: Table of Confidence Ploys
Pattern of confidence ploys essential in the processes of governance responding to challenges.
(Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential)

formal response
Postponed response
Strong short-term response followed by no further action 

Token response with phased out follow-up
Strong continuing response but ineffectual implementation Inappropriately
implemented response
. When holding superiority For confused situations
Repress [1]
Denial of issue (possibly with non-recognition of its promoter) Denial of issue, delaying any covert determination of its significance Denial of issue with covert token monitoring of its significance Denial of issue with covert long-term monitoring of little significance
Discredit Distract
Harass [2]
Discrediting and harassment of issue and promoter to ensure lack of action Discrediting and harassment of issue and promoter to delay covert action significantly Discrediting and harassment of issue and promoter to legitimate any token action Discrediting and harassment of issue and promoter to legitimate other inappropriate programmes
Acknowledge [3] Publicised recognition of issue without further implications for action Publicised recognition of issue delaying covert action implications Publicised recognition of issue oriented around token action response Publicised recognition of issue around enduring action of unchecked relevance
. For confrontation For gaining ground
Displacement Bluster/Protest Scapegoat [4] Bluster and scapegoating to displace concern and effectively justify inaction Bluster and scapegoating to shift priorities and justify covert action delay Bluster and scapegoating to give credibility to token action Bluster and scapegoating to disguise inappropriateness of other action taken
Disinform [5]
Provocation in order to disguise inaction Provocation in order to delay need for covert action Provocation by short-term action of little consequence Continuing provocation disguising inappropriateness of other action taken
Commitment [6]
Expressed commitment to action without any intention of taking any Expressed commitment to overt action which is systematically postponed Expressed commitment to action conceived as token and short-term Expressed commitment to enduring action of unverified appropriateness
. For attack For desperate straits
Honour [7]
Publicized invitation to participate -- in action which never takes place Publicized invitation to participate -- in action which is postponed Publicized invitation to participate -- in token short-term initiatives Publicized invitation to participate -- in other long-term inappropriate projects
Overload [8]
Enthusiastic encouragement to take action -- without any valid support Enthusiastic encouragement to take action -- delaying any necessary support Enthusiastic encouragement to take action - with rapid termination of support Enduring encouragement and support -- without adequate check on its appropriateness
Action on issue [9] Action specifically designed to have no effect Action delayed so that it is ineffective Strong action of brief duration (rendering it ineffective) Strong enduring action -- without adequate check on implementation effectiveness

To the extent that the leadership team can embody or encompass the pattern of what can be asserted and denied, the true function of leadership can emerge as the orchestration of shifts within that pattern -- a shifting pattern of light and shadow. The shadow however may be both in the relationship to the followers and in the blindspots of the leadership group at any one time. For governance in a media-oriented society, this gives a new angle to the old concept of a shadow play.

Research by Glen Newey (Political Lying: A Defense, Public Affairs Quarterly 11, April 1997, pp. 93-116).

There has been a lot of concern in recent years about political deception and spin under successive governments. But the more the electorate expects from the politicians they elect, the more likely it is that politicians will be economical with the truth... Such deception where it is in the public interest may be the price of a healthy democracy.

The challenge is exemplified by some extreme cases:

As a consequence of the intelligence debacle surrounding the "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, many commentators have raised the question as to whether the threat of terrorism, and related secrecy, is to be understood as part of a "shell game" by international leadership (cf Promoting a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism Strategy of choice for world governance, 2002; Destructive Weapons of Mass Distraction vs Distractive Weapons of Mass Destruction, 2003). The threat of "bogeymen" is a technique used by many parents to mislead small children into preferred patterns of behaviour (the stick component of the carrot-and-stick technique in which Father Xmas is the carrot). The term "lies-to-children" describes a form of simplification of material for consumption by children; it is itself a simplification of certain concepts in philosophy of science. Small children (in rural areas) and cowboys use surprising noises to herd cattle -- misleading them in a preferred direction. Some strategies are therefore termed "cowboy strategies".

In the emerging information and knowledge societies, the strategic challenge of misleadership will not only be reframed in terms of "information warfare" (now so evident in terms of "news management") but more subtly in terms of "semantic warfare" and "memetic warfare" -- especially with the emergence of the semantic web (Missiles, Missives, Missions and Memetic Warfare: navigation of strategic interfaces in multidimensional knowledge space, 2001). It is to be expected that analogues to modern weaponry may be developed to that end -- notably "stealth" weapons with "cloaking devices" (popularized by science fiction) that offer the capacity to operate "under the radar" of opponents. Ironically "think tanks" may already be understood as adapted to that end (cf "Tank-thoughts" from "Think-tanks": metaphors constraining development of global governance, 2003)

The nature of the "shell game" is perhaps clarified by the distinction now made between "faith-based" and "reality-based" decision-making at the highest level, as noted in a much-cited article by Ron Suskind (Without a Doubt, The New York Times, In The Magazine, 17 October 2004) regarding an exchange with an aide in the decision-making circle of President Bush:

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

In the light of recent history there is an amazing irony to the preferred abbreviation descriptive of the neoconservatives pursuing the Project for the New American Century -- "neocon". Their declared belief is that "American leadership is both good for America and good for the world". Of course "con" could be understood as "confidence trick" or "conspiracy".

Avoidance of reference to misleadership

It is curious that, despite widespread reference to the need for "leadership", there is so little reference to the extent of "misleadership" as such -- notably following the failure of many national and international initiatives. The challenge of "misrepresentation" is a similar problem in the case of democratically elected "representatives". Is this an example of trying to respond to a problem by avoiding any reference to it and focusing on what is assumed to be desirable -- namely a form of misleadership in its own right? (cf Being Positive Avoiding Negativity: management challenge of positive vs negative, 2005)

Those references that exist tend to take the form of commentary rather than the extensive studies and programmes proposed in relationship to "leadership". In contrast to the above-mentioned challenge of ambiguity, such commentary typically frames all forms of "misleadership" as "bad" -- thereby falling into a trap of binary logic.

Some indicative references to "misleadership" include:

The World Economic Forum's Global Leaders for Tomorrow (GLT) Environment Task Force presented an Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) in 2001, which was developed in cooperation with the Earth Institute's Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University, and the Yale University Center for Environmental Law and Policy. The New Economics Foundation, a London based NGO, called the report "global misleadership" and "a severe case of statistical abuse." (A spin too far ranking US in top fifteen most environmentally friendly economies, 2001).

The Common Good Coalition in the USA articulated an (undated) Common Good Covenant as "a summary of national goals and programs to revitalize the society, economy and the environment of the United States". Therein it is noted that:

Mismanagement and misleadership of the executive and legislative branches resulted in major national and world problems, which may be summarized in the eight national deficits of: world leadership, citizen participation, moral values, federal budget, trade, infrastructure, social, environmental.

Unrecognized phenomena?

The nature of the references to "misleadership" suggests that it has only recently emerged into awareness as a generic phenomenon, despite widespread familiarity with "misleading" and being "misled". This is in curious contrast to the promotion of the concept of "leadership" over past decades and especially its enthusiastic espousal by the military and business worlds for whom strategic failure is a mark of inadequate leadership. Given the inspiration offered to those preoccupations by classical Chinese and Japanese strategic texts (The Art of War, etc), it is also curious that they too only identify the phenomenon in terms of its absence and as an explanation for failure -- and as a mark of the "loser".

The Rice University Neologisms Database comments on "misleadership" (in relation to commentators on the Bush administration in 2005) as follows:

This word gives an example of intentional (although satirical) amelioration of the word mislead. Mislead carries a negative connotation, but when altered to resemble the very positive word leadership, it takes on a subliminally positive quality. The word misleadership was formed as a blend, but it also makes sense as a derivation, mis-lead-er-ship, from the morphemes mis (wrong), lead (the root), er (one who is acting), ship (the art of). Thus we get the art of leading wrongly, an appropriate definition.

In association with "misleadership", the phenomenon of a "misleader" has also been recently recognized -- again much stimulated by the strategic management of George Bush. Early use of the term was made by Simon Tisdall (America's Great Misleader, Guardian Unlimited, 8 October 2002) regarding the strain on the limits of plausibility of Bush's arguments to justify war on Iraq. As a project of, the Misleader is "a daily chronicle of Bush administration distortion" and offers a "misleader archive". It was launched with a letter by Robert L. Borosage (The Misleader, 14 September 2003). An editorial of The Nation (13 October 2003) is entitled Bush the Misleader.

An organization of Swedish sceptices (Vetenskap och Folkbildning, VoF) periodically attributes an award of "Misleader of the Year" to those academics who have most notably misled the public on some controversial aspect of science (cf Erland Lagerroth, Who are the misleaders?).

In a fundamentalist comment on a number of Biblical quotations, Edmund J. Roache (The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand, 2004) argues:

Also, the present world leaders are misleaders; they spend no time truly addressing our global problems such as overpopulation, pollution, environmental degradation, rapid loss of biologic species, ongoing ozone depletion, global social and political unrest, and increasing nuclear weapons proliferation.

However, in contrast with the limited references to the skill set of misleadership, debate on many issues (climate change, sustainability, etc) frequently frames those arguing an opposing position -- of whatever persuasion -- as "misleaders".

Similar issues might be raised with respect to "followership", "misfollowership", "misfollower" and "misfollowing" -- all poorly documented. Although, as Charles Sullivan (The Apostles of Deception, World Prout Assembly, 2007) argues, for example:

Of course, followers require leaders, and that makes them vulnerable to charlatans and frauds. The trouble with leaders and followers is that leaders often mislead and followers obediently trail them to the very gates of hell.

It is appropriate to recall that followers "get the leaders they deserve" -- emerging from their midst through a form of self-organization around leaders as attractors. But it is also the case that misleadership, whether appropriate or inappropriate, emerges by a similar process. Followers evoke from leaders, to some degree, the degree of misleadership that best responds to their collective circumstances. Unconsciously followers may not wish to be conscious of the challenges and decisions the (mis)leader feels to be appropriate. They effectively evoke misleadership by their desire to avoid any obligation to comprehend and act "out-of-the-box" -- namely other than in the manner to which they are habitually accustomed.

Glenda Armstrong (Followership, 2005) has compiled a bibliographical checklist of resources on followership for the military. There is no reference to "misfollowership" or to "misleadership" -- which might be considered of great strategic significance when misleaders successfully persuade a population (or the military) to engage in dubious initiatives that they later come to regret. This is the issue of blindly following inappropriate orders -- and how such inappropriateness is to be distinguished and challenged within an authority structure. It is exemplified by Adolf Eichmann in relation to the Holocaust and by Kofi Annan's role in relation to the massacres during his mandates (Perplexing Symmetries in Obedience to Orders: exploring dubious equivalences in the moral abdication of Adolf Eichmann and Kofi Annan, 1998).

More problematic with respect to the challenges of the future is when misleaders persuade a population not to respond to emerging issues -- a failure to act that they later come to regret. Climate change, overexploitation of resources, or overpopulation are typical of such issues. It is characteristic of misleadership to promote the denial of emerging challenges and promote secondary threats more amenable to narrow focus and technological .investment (Promoting a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism Strategy of choice for world governance, 2002). Again it could be argued that the long-recognized phenomenon of "misleading" has become explicitly central to modern governance through news management and spin -- notably as assiduously practiced by the Bush and Blair regimes (cf Destructive Weapons of Mass Distraction vs Distractive Weapons of Mass Destruction, 2003)

If the hitherto "missing" terms are now to be understood as indicative of a widespread phenomenon, some questions follow:

Criteria of misleadership

It is vital to be clear that neither leadership nor misleadership are to be judged by ethical or moral standards. They are best understood to be value neutral. If the ethical dimension is to be highlighted then both should be qualified:

A "great leader" convinces, motivates and gets things done irrespective of what it costs. To be clear, leadership is therefore a question of value-free efficacy in getting a job done. Any question of unforeseen, unwelcome or unfortunate consequences -- notably collateral damage -- is irrelevant to the assessment of effective leadership. Edward de Bono has given focus to this dimension through use of the neologism "operacy".

To that end a leader must be capable of:

Ensuring that honour is sustained is complex in situations where the relationship between forms of leadership and misleadership is ambiguous in the eyes of those called upon to be honourable or calling for action in terms of honour. Especially problematic is the possibility of a disconnection which undermines the existential triggers and motivations associated with honour or leads to their perversion, notably as "blowback" (cf Honour Essential to Psycho-social Integrity: challenge of dishonourable leadership to the nameless, 2005)

Following from the earlier comments (and as presented in Figure 1), a fruitful distinction between leadership and misleadership is therefore to be based on some combination of:

  1. success in the intended task, possibly by significantly misleading (deceiving or "tricking")
    • opponents (typically extolled as strategic skill)
    • followers (possibly reluctant) -- as a way of enabling them to surpass themselves
    • the leader mindset -- thereby avoiding entrapment in habitual, patterned, predictable response to evolving challenges (as characteristic of an unimaginative instrumentalist logic)
  2. success in accomplishing an inappropriate task, however well leadership is demonstrated (Bush's "Mission Accomplished")
  3. failure to accomplish the intended task through incapacity to lead and incompetence
  4. systematically misleading (irrespective of success or failure):
    • supporters (whether malevolently or not) in support of a hidden agenda (of which they might not approve)
    • oneself (as well as others) regarding one's own leadership capacities and limitations

Expressed metaphorically and simplistically in an era of faith-based governance, the capacity of "Satan" to persuade, mobilize and lead people is legendary -- as is his capacity to mislead them (hence his reputation as the Great Deceiver). The challenge for any corresponding "Messiah" is in the nature of the complexity (and the capacity of those potential followers who make little effort to understand it) -- and who desperately seek for deliverance from their problems through simple, comprehensible solutions they perceive as more credible (see Strategic Briefing for Satan -- based on professional insights from preemptive news and image management, 1999, in comparison with Strategic Briefing for the Messiah -- based on professional insights from preemptive news and image management, 1999).

Exemplars of misleadership

To clarify the nature and significance of misleadership, it is useful to indicate exemplars or domains in which such issues are usefully raised:

Framing the interplay of leadership and misleadership

See (Annex 1

Distinguishing forms of leadership and misleadership
"Hidden" dynamic

"Real" vs "Imaginary"

Framing the interplay of (mis)leadership and (mis)followership

See Annex 2

Leaders vs Followers (Figure 10)
Misleadership and misfollowership as characteristics of faith-based governance?
Image makeovers for misleaders
Principles of misleadership
Misleadership and misfollowership training for potential followers?

Humanity's need for great misleadership?

As noted above, aside from strategic skills by which to outmaneuver opponents, a great leader enables (typically reluctant) followers to surpass themselves and go to places they only later come to understand and appreciate. Appropriate leadership is therefore a judicious blend of leadership and misleadership -- where followers may only be only be persuaded to follow by being misled.

Such leadership requires a combination of skills typical of:

It could be argued that the evolution of the global situation is such that the capacity of leadership as currently framed is inadequate to respond to a situation which is effectively "blocked" -- except in terms of a widespread pattern of tokenistic responses to create the impression of effective action and postpone recognition of failure. The "way forward" is typically articulated in rational instrumentalist terms that reinforce obsolete styles of thought and patterns of behaviour -- possibly on the assumption that their inadequacy will be compensated by faith-based governance and divine intervention.

The paradoxical nature of the situation may be better framed in terms of the possibility that the only viable "way forward" is better described as a non-linear pathway -- of the kind better represented with the tools of the complexity sciences, such as the Mandelbrot set (cf Walking Elven Pathways: enactivating the pattern that connects, 2006). Various questions are raised by this argument:

Such questions call for a more attentive focus on the role of confidentiality in relation to the confidence essential to community confidence-building -- otherwise framed as the "battle for hearts and minds". The challenge is that confidentiality is essential to strategic surprise (and associated issues of timing), prudence regarding potentially controversial impacts (collateral damage), and any intention of acquiring or controlling (intellectual) property, including the "moral high ground".

The systematic work of the International Society for Panetics, founded by Taoist R G H Siu (Panetics and Dukkha: an integrated study of the infliction of suffering and the reduction of infliction. 1993) resulted in a quantitative measure of suffering (dukkha). A "megadukkha" represents the order of magnitude of suffering sustained by 1,000 persons for about 10 hours a day, for a year, with severe stomach ulcers and without medication (cf Johan Galtung, Panetics and the Practice of Peace and Development, 1999). This suggests the possibility of an analogous quantitative measure for misleadership in terms of "megamayas" (for example) -- the degree of illusion (maya) sustained in a Potemkin-style society (Globalization within a Global Potemkin Society: a strategic challenge to proactive participation in society, 2000). The "megamaya" would be based on a measure of the number of (classified) documents to which citizens do not have ready access -- as envisaged under freedom of information acts.

The challenge for followers (and the unpersuaded) however is how to distinguish whether the new pattern, as it becomes apparent (rather than as presented), is more appropriate or less, more constructive than destructive. How can the future be most appropriately presented? (cf Presenting the Future: an alternative to dependence on human sacrifice through global pyramid selling schemes, 2001). This is especially challenging when the credibility of solutions has to be determined by those impatient for immediate solutions within mindsets that may be inappropriate to their comprehension -- as suggested by the maxims:

The challenge is one of distinguishing, in a timely manner, a credible leader from a manipulative con-artist and purveyor of snake-oil. However the distinction may in fact be primarily in the eyes of the beholders, and how they are affected by the interaction, and may have little to do with the actual intent of the catalyst of that transformation. The situation is further complicated by the extent to which the (mis)leader embodies the risks and uncertainties of the situation in order to successfully navigate its challenges -- effectively abandoning the mindset which inhibits an imaginative "out-of-the-box" response to contrary forces. Successful (mis)leaders may be inherently risky to encounter -- as attested by disciples of many gurus regarding their unpredictability (whether appropriate or inappropriate), notably those of the "crazy wisdom" persuasion.

The current global disarray is in danger of invoking new forms of " Hitler" offering immediately credible solutions -- where I understand your "Hitler" as my "Saviour", and you understand my "Saviour" as your "Hitler". A foretaste of this dilemma was to be seen in the manner in which families were divided regarding the appropriateness of the intervention of the Coalition of the Willing. The misleading ways in which any such dilemma can be framed is evident from the pair of interlinked presentations cited above (Strategic Briefing for Satan -- based on professional insights from preemptive news and image management, 1999; Strategic Briefing for the Messiah -- based on professional insights from preemptive news and image management, 1999).

In the longer term, and in a larger scheme of things, the interplay of polarized judgements of appropriateness and inappropriateness may need to be understood as a necessary feature of the dynamic of a complex dissipative system. Hence the value of the Mandelbrot set as a framework for such reflection. This overcomes the tendency to value the constructive conditions (judged "positive" from a short term perspective) over the conditions of collapse (judged "negative" from a short term perspective) -- typically without recognizing the validity of the decay portions of any cycle, so notably emphasized in recycling (and gardening). Curiously the need (noted above) for a leader effectively to "dance" across the quadrants of the Mandlebrot set might be usefully understood in terms of the quadratic polynomial equation on which it is based.

Appropriate celebration of "misleadership" -- and "misfollowership"?

As argued elsewhere, there is a strong case for acknowledging the various forms of "misleadership" and "misfollowership" with a lighter or more provocative touch to benefit from the insights they may bring (Humour and Play-Fullness: essential integrative processes in governance, religion and transdisciplinarity, 2005; Liberating Provocations: use of negative and paradoxical strategies, 2005; Humour and International Challenges: augmenting problem and strategy comprehension through psycho-cultural catalysts, 1998).

In that spirit, the following possibilities merit consideration:

Emergence of a Global Misleadership Council?

Given the essential ambiguity between leadership and misleadership emphasized above, the question is the extent to which the emergence of some form of Global Misleadership Council can be detected.

Conspiracy theorists have for many decades been highly creative in presenting evidence for the threatening influence of secret elites on society -- and the web is a natural medium for the development and proliferation of such rumours. These elite networks have variously included and combined bodies noted in Figure 12 (for a more comprehensive list see Global Elite Wiki). Some variants focus on emergence of a New World Order, New Age conspiracies, Illuminati, extraterrestrials, and esoteric secret societies.

Many of these preoccupations have been dismissed as unfounded speculation. They do however offer an interesting institutional complement -- the possibility of a singular manipulative global body -- to the contemporary strategic tendency to promote a singular global threat as a necessary focus for future strategy and attention (cf Promoting a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism Strategy of choice for world governance, 2002).

Like "front organizations", false flag operations are prime examples of misleadership in practice -- whether to be understood as strategically justified or totally questionable in any "just war". Given the historical possibility of false flag operations -- covert operations conducted by governments and others to appear as if they are being carried out by other entities -- it is curious that no official media discuss such a possibility on the occasion of "terrorist incidents" (cf Cui Bono: Groupthink vs Thinking the Unthinkable? Reframing the suffocating consensus in response to 7/7, 2005). Failure to mention such lines of inquiry seriously undermines the credibility of the knee-jerk security responses triggered by such incidents and of the predictable explanations so quickly offered.

These are an exemplification of groupthink -- unworthy of any intelligent community. A case of mobilizing national resources to "bolt the door after the horse has fled" -- a desperate token demonstration of "post facto efficacy" (cf Max Hastings, This gesture security is inevitable: but it has barely any practical value, Guardian, 2 July 2007). Such a socially destabilizing and restrictive response is precisely how terrorists seek to achieve their objectives with comparatively trivial allocation of resources (cf Simon Jenkins, We are offering the terrorist a megaphone for his cause, Guardian, 4 July 2007).

Figure 12: Framing the challenge of detecting any Global Misleadership Council
Indicative cited sources
of global (mis)leadership
by elite groups
what valuable (mis)leadership has been provided?
what regrettable (mis)leadership has been provided?
. Leadership
what has been effectively enabled?
what imaginative reframing has been used to enable new action?
what incompetence has been demonstrated?
how have supporters and others been dangerously misled?
. . . . .
Alfalfa Club ? ? ? ?
Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance ? ? ? ?
Bilderberg Group ? ? ? ?
Bohemian Club / Bohemian Grove ? ? ? ?
Club of Budapest ? ? ? ?
Club of Rome ? ? ? ?
Coalition of the Willing ? ? ? ?
Council on Foreign Relations ? ? ? ?
Freemasonry ? ? ? ?
Global Governance Group ? ? ? ?
Illuminati ? ? ? ?
InterAction Council ? ? ? ?
North American Forum ? ? ? ?
Opus Dei ? ? ? ?
Society of the Elect
(The Round Table)
? ? ? ?
Tällberg Forum ? ? ? ?
The Elders ? ? ? ?
Trilateral Commission ? ? ? ?
United Nations ? ? ? ?
World Economic Forum ? ? ? ?

In addition to such specific examples (however mistakenly cited), religions, sects and cults, whether esoteric, New Age or otherwise, explicitly operate with multiple levels of secrecy accessible only through some initiatory experience, paradigm shift -- or by some understanding of the "grace of God". It is curious how such concentric levels of knowing are echoed in the neolithic architecture of places such as Stonehenge.

Through such levels of misleadership, the leadership within such inner circles must then necessarily mislead -- both those in outer circles and outsiders -- as to its nature and the transformation it seeks to bring about (cf Strategic Opportunities of the Twice Born: reflections on systemic camouflage of mass deception, 2004; Global Strategic Implications of the "Unsaid": from myth-making towards a "wisdom society", 2003).

Given the characteristic self-righteousness, it may be believed by such leadership (and strongly asserted) that this is being done "in the best interests" of others (and despite their reservations). Even their democratically elected "representatives" avoid seeking their consent -- as with the EU constitutional treaty process. The subsequently proposed Reform Treaty, avoiding any previous commitment to a referendum, is a prime example of "hardcore misleadership" -- with many leaders indicating that its content was at least 90% of that which had previously been rejected (cf EU Referendum, 25 July 2007; Steve Watson, EU Federal Superstate Becoming A Reality: European globalists no longer even pretend the people will have a say, 18 April 2007). This highlights "misrepresentation" in a democracy as a problem of similar nature to "misleadership". As noted earlier, followers evoke from leaders, to some degree, the degree of misleadership that best responds to their collective circumstances. Unconsciously followers may not wish to be conscious of the challenges and decisions the (mis)leader feels to be appropriate.

One unfortunate dimension of misleadership is especially problematic in the case of initiatives with which every hope may be legitimately associated. Examples of such are Synthesis Dialogues, World Future Council, World Wisdom Alliance, and The Elders (Evaluating Synthesis Initiatives and their Sustaining Dialogues, 2000; Future World Council Creation, 2004). The challenge however lies in what such initiatives typically avoid in launching out anew. Especially strIking is the exctent to which they take a "green-field" approach, avoiding the "brown-field" issue of why their predecessors "failed" -- even though they may continue to exist and attract resources and support.

Curiously a key to the relationship between (mis)leadership and (mis)followership is in the nature of education (Latin: educare) -- itself derived from an understanding of leading (out of a condition of ignorance). (Mis)leadership may then be understood as a process of education -- recalling the comparison between education as "lies to children" and politics as "lies to adults" (see Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, Jack Cohen. The Science of Discworld, 1999).

This ambiguity is especially evident in relation to leadership in the advancement of knowledge where it might be claimed that scientific leadership is necessarily about truth and avoidance of misleading statements. Misleadership is however indeed evident, as with any communication from the wise, in the extent to which an expert is obliged by the nature of the subject matter (at the limits of current understanding) to knowingly mislead when communicating with the modestly informed, unskilled in the language of the relevant discipline. The challenge is evident over time when an earlier (simpler) theory is still used "because it works", even though this thereby misleadingly obscures a subtler truth of greater validity. Chris Lucas (personal communication) makes the point as follows:

A later theory may well be an improvement, but the earlier one still works better than guesswork or a disproved one ! Note that 'replacement' theories are usually rather wider reaching. What quantum mechanics did, compared to Newton's mechanics, was to expand the scope, but Newton's is still usable today, it just doesn't take into account some wider issues. In the same way complexity theory doesn't disprove Newton or quantum mechanics, just widens further the scope - we take account of what we neglected previously (nonlinearity) - so can achieve a 'better guess'.

The current global condition is such that no authority with the power to mislead is able to prove with any credibility that it is not in the process of misleading (cf Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy, 1980). This is especially the case when those involved are persuaded of their power and insight

Especially challenging to discernment of appropriateness is the tendency to convene admirable gatherings, even to instiutionalize them, as a basis for admirable initiatives where questions of "misleadership" may then be associated with:

In presenting the results of the survey of the Pew Global Attitudes Project (Global Unease With Major World Powers, 2007), the co-chairman, former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright commented that the results showed that 'The international system as we know it has broken down, according to these numbers". She spoke of a growth of "nihilism" and the "disarray" of international governance. Others have recalled Albright's response on 60 Minutes (1996) when asked about the deaths of Iraqis under US sponsored sanctions: "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?". She responded "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we think the price is worth it." Some have remarked that her understanding of nihilism may differ from that of others.

Equally strong points about the disarray of Western-dominated international governance, in selecting Tony Blair to be its envoy to Palestine, are made by the Middle East political commentator Robert Fisk (How Could Blair Possibly Get This Job? The Bumbling Envoy,, 23/24 June 2007).

For those potentially affected by such misleadership, whether appropriate or not, the challenge is caricatured by the recognition that "if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, then it probably is a duck". In the light of the initiatives of the Coalition of the Willing -- and tacit support for its action, notably by some represented in Figure 12 -- it would appear that there is some form of emergent Global Misleadership Council. Like al-Qaida, it may be primarily an idea inspiring strategic action of various forms by various less-shadowy bodies (Jason Burke, Al-Qaida is now an idea not an organisation, Guardian, 5 August 2005). But the challenge of whether it is understood to be acting appropriately or inappropriately is what will continue to divide people -- dangerously.

The fundamental challenge in a global society may be that of understanding what forms "appropriate misleadership" may take and under what conditions. How to be engaged by strategic options whose nature is beyond our immediate comprehension -- given the credibility challenge of those undertaking such initiatives, supposedly in our "best interests"?

Challenges and insights of other languages

Given the central role of "leadership", why do many languages choose to use the English term untranslated? Why is "leadership" (or "followership"), let alone "misleadership" (or "misfollowership"), so challenging to translate into other languages, even other European languages?

On the other hand, are there some languages that have richer articulations of styles of leadership and followership that take better account of the distinctions highlighted above? Such possibilities are indicated by several compilations (Howard Rheingold, They Have a Word for It: a lighthearted lexicon of untranslatable words and phrases, 1988; Adam Jacot de Boinod, The Meaning of Tingo: and other extraordinary words from around the world, 2006)


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