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Hierarchical Leadership: An Obsolete Model

The democratic system is built around one chosen leader overtly given power over almost every aspect of a citizens’ life. This centralized model of leadership reinforces a culture of absolute dependence. While democracy positions itself as a modern form of governance its leadership model, rooted in the domination mindset, is based on the outdated hierarchical pyramid structure and centralized leadership. The overt power is often superficial with the leader, a clear bait for the power hungry, being severely handicapped by financial and political forces at work. The hierarchical model is replicated at all different levels of the governance structure creating a ripe field for abuse of power.


One leader at the top of the pyramid levels nevertheless has enormous control.   This model reinforces the dynamic of an omnipotent, God-like leader who is able to know all, see all and care for all. The notion of a patriarchal saviour in the form of kings, priests, fathers, CEO’s, professors or presidents, who can make everything okay is a seductive one that humans have been courting for millennia. It disconnects individuals from their own authority, responsibility, and creativity. The hierarchical structure means that most leaders work very much in isolation with limited access to different perspectives and few checks and balances.


The hierarchical mindset is based on illusions of superiority and inferiority, and generates power relationships based on dynamics of victim, persecutor and saviour. It reinforces a psychological dynamic where people relinquish responsibility to external authority for the comfort of dependence. They are pacified by a belief that someone else is ‘in charge’ and will ‘sort it all out’ and there’s always conveniently someone to blame. This dependence dynamic protects individuals from having to confront their own responsibility, courage and limitations in co-creating our collective reality. 


With this model of absolute authority, people tend to relate to leaders somewhat like a teenager relates to authority. They find themselves caught between polarities of love and hate, submission and rebellion. 


When a leader is put on a pedestal it aborts any possibility of healthy relationship or creative complementarity between the leader and those he or she represents.


Being put on a pedestal is not only a lonely place to be but is also a set-up for disillusionment and failure. Leaders often become the object of obsessive projections of idealization or devaluation. It is not surprising that so many leaders in democracies find themselves ending their careers in a dynamic of blame and shame and that so few have emerged as admired and loved statesmen and stateswomen.


The hierarchical structure creates the very injustices it claims to protect. The position of power often gives the freedom to abuse power.  The distance of leaders from citizens means many decisions are disconnected from real needs. This enormous power makes leaders particularly vulnerable to financial lobbying, corruption and sell-outs. Their power over media gives them the ability to abuse their influence over public opinion by manipulating truth, concealing information and presenting their ideologies as self-evident truths.


Political leaders usually emerge from legal and financial professions, and are generally steeped in technocratic language with little interest in the health of people and planet. Many leaders get into power due to political manoeuvring and personal charisma. The ability to gain power by incitement, fear mongering and bribery is inbuilt in the system.


In almost every profession there is a clear program of studies, a clear list of required qualifications and a rigorous application procedure.  Democratic politics however has its own rules. While politicians lead the most complex of human and environmental systems, they are not required to have any formal training in global issues, leadership, human dynamics, whole system theories, ecology or other relevant skills.


The democratic structure creates a highly inefficient revolving door system for complex roles. Every few years new politicians allocate resources and define policies in areas they know little about. No responsible financial organization would dream of employing people on this basis. It would be considered business suicide.


The democratic system means that we collectively relinquish charge of the environment and our lives to leaders, who, even with the best of intentions, cannot be effective custodians of the complex systems they lead.


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