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4th July 2007 | Draft

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

challenges and responsibilities

-- / --

Annex 2 of Emergence of a Global Misleadership Council: misleading as vital to governance of the future? (2007)

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?

Introduction (reproduced from main paper)

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). It 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 that of a more incompetent or malevolent form? What then are the complementary considerations for misfollowership under different forms of misleadership?

Leaders vs Followers

Whilst much can be achieved through leadership, there are dangers in "delegating" to leaders functions which should be carried out by others (as the debate on subsidiarity has demonstrated in the European Union). For then the leadership engages in activities which distract from less tangible functions, and the ability to perform the more tangible functions becomes valued more than the skills in the less tangible ones. These lead to a confusion of leadership with competence and followership with incompetence.

In the fluid social structures of the future, the challenge will be to work with shifting patterns of assertion and denial, of leadership and followership. It is how the many forms of assertion and denial are configured together which offers a way forward, not the tendency to deplore denial as the favoured scapegoat for the 1990s. The assertion-denial complementarity needs to be reframed as a resource whose paradoxical qualities define the door to a genuinely sustainable future.

Sustainable communities, emerging through processes of self-organization, may turn out to based on complex forms of co-dependency, defined by many complementary forms of assertion and denial, as phases in a dynamic learning process. When does such co-dependency impede sustainability as opposed to enabling it? In such a community functions of leading and following may need to be constantly redistributed, in relation to assertion and denial, in ways that remain to be understood.

Figure 10: Dynamic relationships between Leaders and Followers

The Future of Leadership: Reframing the unknown (1994) FOLLOWERS (PUBLIC)

Assertion (Agreement)


Denial (Disagreement)


Assertion and Denial (Equivocation)


Neither Assertion
nor Denial




Neither Assertion nor Denial

Public asserts but Leaders neither assert nor deny

Public denies but Leaders neither assert nor deny

Public equivocates but Leaders neither assert nor deny

Both Public and Leaders neither assert nor deny

Assertion and Denial (Equivocation)

Public asserts but Leaders equivocate

Public denies whilst Leaders equivocate

Both Leaders and Public equivocate

Leaders equivocate but Public neither asserts nor denies

Denial (Disagreement)

Public asserts Leaders deny

Leaders and Public deny

Leaders deny whilst Public equivocates

Leaders deny but Public neither asserts nor denies

Assertion (Agreement)

Leaders and Public agree

Leaders assert Public denies

Leaders assert but Public equivocates

Leaders assert but Public neither asserts nor denies



Zone I

Zone II

Zone III

Zone IV

The many possibilities of this shifting pattern are suggested by Table 1. The cells of the table are clustered into four zones each of which includes those at a lower level (so that Zone III includes behaviour characteristic of Zones I and II):

  1. "Consensual": Here consensus is emphasized, as in any fire-fighting situation. There is no cause for reservations or denial. In the form of declarations and agreements, this mode is the grail of many international initiatives, notably those which are most simplistic or fanatical. Efforts at a global ethic aspire to this condition.
  2. "Schizoid": This is exemplified by situations in which emphasis is placed on agreement in public debate (as in a conference plenary) with reservations and denials being expressed "in the corridors" (or possibly the reverse). This is more clearly recognized in Eastern cultures where there is as much sensitivity to what is said as to what is not said (of the Japanese distinction between tatemae and honne, between the explicitly stated and the unspoken realities). It leads to conditions in which people say one thing and do something different -- typical of the more cynical at many international conferences. There is little ability to manage both assertion and denial simultaneously as Peter Scott-Morgan (1994) demonstrates in the case of vain efforts to implement rational strategies whilst neglecting the unwritten rules of any organization. There is a particular problem when both leaders and followers are in denial.
  3. "Inconsistent": With the ability in this zone to work flexibly and simultaneously with both assertion and denial, from which moments of assertion or denial may emerge as appropriate. This can easily take the form of equivocation and fickleness, or be seen as such. There is a particular problem when both leaders and followers equivocate.
  4. "Transcendent": In this zone there is an ability to avoid being trapped by either assertion or denial, or by the vacillation between them characteristic of Zone III. From the perspective of this zone ("neither confirming nor denying"), there is greater ability to navigate as appropriate between the options presented by Zones I, II and III. Especially challenging is the condition in which both leaders and followers are able to avoid either assertion or denial. It is the desirability of this condition which is "hidden" within the widespread obsession with simplistic forms of consensus characterized by Zone I. This zone captures some of the richness associated with David Bohm's explicate and implicate orders interrelated through a holomovement.

The zones correspond to a progression from the necessarily simplistic consensus of Zone I through various higher orders of consensus in which denial is embodied in some way. Clearly of major importance is the extent to which leaders and followers are "in phase" within any one zone, as reflected by the cells on the diagonal. The out of phase conditions typical of most challenges to governance (and confidence artistry) are represented through cells off the diagonal as well as to a richer range of social problems. In contrast, in the responses typical of Zones I or II, consensus tends to be very narrowly focused and much of wider significance is ignored.

It is appropriate to note that Eastern philosophies of governance, typified by the / Ching, would articulate the pattern of Table I in greater detail to give 64 cells. Indeed its coding system (of hexagrams of complete and broken lines) can be seen as a representation of a dynamic system of complementary combinations of light and shadow (assertion and denial) whereby ruler and people can be related. The progression to higher orders of consensus, through which possibilities of integrating the shadow are embodied, can also be related to the much-cited sequence of "ox- herding" pictures central to Zen Buddhism. The Eastern attitude would however downplay any such linear progress in favour of recognition of the complementarity of the roles played by all conditions represented in Table I or in the / Ching pattern. This is exemplified by Chuang Tzu:

"When man understands only one of a pair of opposites, or concentrates only on a partial aspect of being, then clear expression becomes muddied by mere word play, affirming this one aspect and denying all the rest....The wise man therefore sees that on both sides of every argument there is both right and wrong. "

Misleadership and misfollowership as characteristics of faith-based governance?

The dynamics of question and response on this matter has been the subject of comment over centuries. The issue has been epitomized by Karl Marx's alleged maxim that religion is the "opium of the people" -- perhaps now to be framed as "weapons of mass distraction". Contrary views are currently evident in the debate over "intelligent design" and the teaching of evolution.

Faith-based governance is intimately related to the pattern of crusades and jihads -- and the many current faith-based conflicts around the world. It inspires suicide bombing and legitimates cluster bombing. It has been central to the belief in weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the manipulation of evidence in support of their purported existence.

A number of current studies document what might be caricatured as a direct correlation between religious belief and lying -- whether by leaders or by followers (cf Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 2006; Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great: how religion poisons everything, 2007).

The effect of such critiques on believers is marginal and in no way affects their commitment or the emergence of new patterns of faith-based governance (cf Future Challenge of Faith-based Governance, 2003). Indeed useful arguments may be made in support of the extent to which the efficacy of any preferred alternative is itself but another belief meriting analogous criticism (with regard to their "priesthoods", manipulation of evidence, groupthink, demonization of dissidents, complicity in malfeasance, etc).

Image makeovers for misleaders

The phenomenon of misleadership is accompanied by a variety of consistent processes through which such misleadership can be denied, concealed or "reframed", whether by followers, dissidents or opponents. Examples include:

Principles of misleadership

In the light of the above arguments and examples, the question is how the principles of misleadership are to be understood -- whether intended, experienced or interpreted as "appropriate" or "inappropriate". Inappropriate forms may of course be subsequently understood as having triggered valued learnings -- then making them appropriate? What are the sources of any relevant "principles"? Possibilities include:

Misleadership and misfollowership training for potential followers?

Given the strong case, so widely made, for leadership training and enhancing capacity to detect and promote those with natural leadership qualities, it would seem appropriate to explore the need for a corresponding degree of training in followership. This should of course include development of skills to recognize and respond to misleadership and tendencies to mislead.

Examples of such training include:

There is less formal focus on the needs for training to respond appropriately:

It is possible that newly developed brain scan technology, capable of detecting intentions and dispositions before they manifest in practice, could be used to guard against the emergence of (mis)leaders before they acquire positions of undue power (Ian Sample, The Brain Scan that can Read People's Intentions, Guardian, 9 February 2007).

Currently the use of such technology has only been envisaged in relation to interrogation of those suspected of criminal or terrorist tendencies -- possibly extended to dissidence of any kind. But, for the benefit of followers, there may be a case for its use on any seeking election or nomination to positions of authority -- whether in governments, international institutions or in religious movements -- especially given the degree of corruption now evident in international decision making. Such possibilities raise the question of how the scandal leading to resignation of the European Commission (or that in Eurostat) might have been avoided by use of such techniques. Clearly leaders dependent on followers could well see the advantage of such techniques when hiring or promoting people in positions of confidence -- as an extension of the current use of polygraph testing on people with high levels of security clearance.

Of potentially greater significance is the need for training of followers of one worldview in:

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