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Discussing the Assemblies and Consensus of #OccupyWallStreet (3): Visioning Emergent Leadership

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th November 2011


Excerpted from Sharif Abdullah:

“One of the constant mantras of the “Occupy Together” (OT) phenomenon is its “leaderless” nature. I support and applaud this… to a point.

Anyone who has come to my workshops over the past ten years knows I’ve been an advocate of “Emergence” – defined as “leaderless distributed networks of information and power”. In an Emergence, it is the system that learns, grows and adapts… without any kind of “authority” telling the various agents what to do.When it happens, it is startling, it is beautiful, and it is POWERFUL.

So, the question of whether OT needs “leadership” is tied to the question: “Is OT an Emergence?” The answer to that question is a firm “NOT YET”. And, because of that, OT is in definite need of leadership.But, a very different kind of leadership than what we’ve been used to.

First: upon what do I base my “not yet” assessment? An Emergence has five very important factors. In an Emergence…

1. The group has a large number of independent actors, all sharing information.

2. There is a lack of control over any individual’s behavior.

3. The actors share a common vision, simple values, and/or rules.

4. The actors have largely interchangeable roles.

5. The actors have the same goals and objectives.

OT clearly has #2 and #4.They clearly do NOT have #3 and #5. (I’m not sure about #1…) Without vision/ values/ goals/ objectives, OT NEEDS LEADERSHIP.A very different kind of leadership: Emergent Leadership.

We know the role of old-style leadership: tell the sheeple what to do. Whether it’s the “boss” on the shop floor, or the old-style politician wheeling and dealing in the corridors of power, leadership equals control, and control equals power.

Not in an Emergence.Someone grabbing a bullhorn and “telling” the Occupy forces what to
do would be met with derision, silence, scorn or pity. (Perhaps all of the above.) OT is – and should be – allergic to “control”.

Here’s a quote from Stephen Johnson, author of the book “Emergence”:

“Without an active leader who takes responsibility for building a network, spontaneous connection between groups emerges very slowly, or not at all.”

So, what are the five key elements of Emergent Leadership?

1. Encourage/ stimulate lots of actors (help build critical mass).

2. Articulate simple, consistent rules.

3. Articulate simple, deep values and goals.

4. Articulate simple, appropriate roles.

5. Assume NO direct command and control.

Is there any evidence of this kind of “Emergent Leadership” happening in OT? Well,
YES! LOTS! Just look for the “worker bee” spark plugs in any of the encampments. (These are the folks with the dark circles under their eyes, from working day and night.) They’ve got dark circles, because most of their time is spent swimming against an “anti-leadership” tide.

Let me give you one example: while in Los Angeles, I sat in on an Assembly, for the Media committee. It was painful to watch. The majority of the participants were knowledgeable, intelligent, articulate, and attempting to self-discipline into a sense of order. They really wanted to accomplish something, and had sacrificed their time and energy for “the cause”.

They were plagued by people wandering in from the edges of the group, not really part of it. The wanderers would hear half a sentence they didn’t like, then bombard the group with their “opinion”. The wanderers would take the group out of its focus, then wander off again.

This was amazingly frustrating for the group. Sometimes, the wanderers would bring up points that had been settled just ten minutes earlier. And, some of the wanderers seemed more intent on “making their point” than getting any work done. (One didn’t even know the purpose of the meeting – but that didn’t stop him from having an opinion!)

People were leaving the group in frustration – the wrong people. One young African-American man said to me as he was leaving, “I’ve been here for hours, and we’ve gotten nothing done. People just keep walking up and talking! They don’t even know what this committee is about!”

For OT to be successful, they MUST begin to rein in this kind of behavior. There are a lot of really focused, dedicated people involved in OT. And, there are some people who just want to hear the sounds of their own voices, people who are attention-starved, people who are not interested in participatory democracy – they are only interested in spreading their own narrow (and largely discordant) point of view.Just blurting out whatever you want, whenever you want to, is NOT democracy.

Trying to do direct democracy and consensus without a unifying vision is frustrating at its very best, impossible at its worst. This is why I developed a “Catalyst Leader Training Program” over a decade ago – to educate the kinds of leaders that are needed at this time in our history. A Catalyst-Leader is more facilitator and cheerleader than controller – a person with no ego-need to command or demand others to act. The goal of the training program is to develop a more Taoist style of leadership, so that, when the Catalyst-Leader acts, the people say, “we did this ourselves!”

OT must let go of the “anarchist” notion of “no leadership”, to allow an Emergent “Catalyst Leadership” to develop: no attempts at “control”, but a firm hand on agreed-to processes, and a clear eye on a positive vision of a future that works for all.”

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One Response to “Discussing the Assemblies and Consensus of #OccupyWallStreet (3): Visioning Emergent Leadership”

  1. Robert Steele Says:

    This is a wonderful contribution curated by Howard Rheingold into Scoop.it and reposted to Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog.

    My own personal effort has been centered on getting all Occupies to adopt the Statement of Demand for 5 January and the Electoral Reform Act of 2012 (now crowd-sourced into version 4.3) for mandatory sponsorship by each representative and senator to be confronted during the holiday recess.

    I thought I had some of the excluded political parties on board, but now it turns out they would rather be window-dressing and not advance this. Does make me wonder if their leaders are covertly funded by CIA, I cannot think of any other logical explanation for their refusing to consider the one thing we can all support.

    It is also the one thing that could raise $500 million quickly (50 million times $10 each).

    I just do not see Occupy leadership emergent–they are trying too hard to be all things to all people and not at all focused. This will, I believe, cost us all the chance to flush a corrupt Congress into the open: either support the Electoral Reform Act of 2012 or be hounded out of office one by one.

    More info: http://tinyurl.com/OWS-ER-HO

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