Leadership & Freedom

Leadership & Freedom

The books and articles that have been written about Leadership and Freedom would alone fill the twenty-eight repositories of The Bodleian Libraries. This is not an attempt to compete with them. It is a view about the extent of the demands that necessarily accompany both states. How does personal responsibility fit with leadership in whatever form it is found? How must freedom be exercised to make that leadership work? How little leadership, how much freedom? Is adversarial contest the most fruitful way to balance the two? 

The Oxford Dictionary says leadership is about taking risks and challenging the status quo. Leaders motivate others to achieve something new and better. The ideological differences between the East (China, Russia) and the West (United States, Europe, including Britain, even as it idiotically prefers to be classified as non-European) are manifest by the differences in leadership and freedom. The contrast is even greater nearer home. When bosses dictate and workers strike, nobody wins. Today’s governments face a further crisis in making the decisions of authority comply with the human rights of acceptable life. All find it difficult; few do a good job of it. Those who try to are pressured to pass more laws and become more violent.

The duty of leadership is to ensure stable progress. The right of freedom is to allow everyone to have and express a point of view. Leadership authority must not involve torture, bullying or force – physical or mental. Nor should freedom. When either leaders or those they lead have to resort to violent means of control, they have lost. Should they make a short-term, temporary gain it will turn out to be a medium or long-term failure. Humanity has had enough time to learn about the pointlessness of violence. Why has it failed to do so? Do we have a gene in us that urges us to fight? Possibly, but wasn’t civilization supposed to control it?

The duty of the free is to behave in such a way that opinions – even strong ones – may be expressed, politely and without resort to language and behavior that detracts from the sense and logic of their view.  Violence – physical or verbal – has no part in maintaining freedom just as it has no place in asserting authority. Brains are assets of both authority and freedom. Braun alone admits brain failure, something children should learn at home and at school. 

Because it is supposed to be more advantaged – better educated, more exposed to rational thought – leadership has the greater responsibility for decent and rational behaviour. That does not absolve freedom promoters from good behaviour. They, like all of us, have to admit that we may be wrong. Any argument that claims belief, knowledge or correctness about an unproven fact or an unpredictable future is evidence of stupidity or mendacity. 

Attempts to reconcile authority and freedom by legislation are promoted week in, week out. They cost incalculable sums of money to draft, pass, police and prosecute. They largely fail because the judgments that they are trying to make are arbitrary. If ever the cheap phrase ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ is relevant it is here. While there are many things to think about when exercising authority, the most important is ‘what does the person I am trying to control need and respond to?’ Similarly, those under orders must know the polite way to say ‘why?’ if they are to make the instructions they receive produce the desired result. Devoting the time, effort, knowledge and cost of legislating to teaching and training would stand a better chance of letting us have a society that thinks cooperatively rather than purely competitively.

Humankind is going through a major test of whether our highly developed brain can answer the obvious question of whether we can live together or not. The question was asked when there were only 100,000 people on earth. Now there are 80,000 times that number, the need for an answer is rather more compelling.

Failure to answer it so far is seen by what is happening to authority and freedom today.

Parents, teachers – in fact, each of us – carries the responsibility of creating an answer.

We begin to answer it by the very next thing we do.

Good morning

John Bittleston


Can authority and freedom be “automated”? We’d love to hear your views on that.

Please write either to me or to mentors@terrificmentors.com 

5 January 2023