New Orleans, Louisiana
There are “big P” Politics and “little p” politics. We are all familiar with “Politics” – the labels (Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Socialists, Communists, etc.), and the issues (Brexit, immigration, war, etc.). Less talked about, but equally significant in our lives is “politics” – factors that impact our decisions, choices, and relationships. For example, the decisions you make about where you sit or whether to speak up at a meeting, whether to socialize with someone outside of work, where you rent or buy your home, and what, if any, house of worship you attend, all contain elements of politics.
Often, we make these decisions without much conscious awareness, but they contain a political element nonetheless: on public transportation, how do we choose our seat? You can say you just sat in the first available seat, but likely, you first made a quick assessment of whether you would feel safe or comfortable in that seat, based on a range of variables, including the apparent age, size, race, gender and mood of the persons around you. This makes it a political decision. Indeed, politics is a part of every decision both large – such as a decision to start or end a war and how it is to be done, and small – such as where to sit in the cafeteria and with whom.
Until we are consciously aware how and why we make these decisions, we are likely to operate out of habit and without full consideration of our options. The fact that a decision is political does not make it inherently good or bad; it does mean that it has potential impact worth considering.
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The world is changing in ways that make it harder for leaders to exercise the vision and leadership capacity than can inspire followers. The traditional masculine hierarchical model of authority is being questioned. The internet and social media give rise to greater individualism and the capacity to mobilize others using horizontal rather than vertical authority – “sibling” authority rather than “parental” authority. The historical legacy of authoritarian regimes in post-Soviet Eastern Europe societies is that of authority being commonly perceived as top-down, oppressive, and requiring from followers a response of resistance or sabotage, rather than cooperation. In established Western democracies understanding and definitions of leadership and followership seem to be at stake.
There can be no leadership without followers and no followers without leadership. They are interdependent roles. But, is the power of followers only to be found in resisting (powerful officials and governments), abandoning (organizations, families), or sabotaging (not performing one’s job)? Moreover, how do we operate when the roles of leadership and followership are not clearly defined? In groups where authority is decentralized, roles of leadership and followership may be fluid and shifting. In layered organizations persons in middle management have to take on the roles of both leaders and follower.
So, how do we dance? How does the follower embrace the leader? How does the leader lead the follower? This conference invites you to explore the inter-related authority of leaders and followers and the changing nature of leadership today.
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