community, leadership and power


“Society, community, family are all conserving institutions. They try to maintain stability, and to prevent, or at least slow down change. But organizations are organized with the intent to destabilize. Because its function is to put knowledge to work – on tools, processes and products; on work; on knowledge itself – it must be organized for constant change.”

Peter Drucker


“The boundaries, structures and goal states of social systems are not defined physically, but rather by contexts of meaning.”

Werner Ulrich


Two business topics I have always struggled with are ‘communities’ and ‘leadership.’

I believe a business is a quasi-community, but more often a system of mini-networks <mini-communities?> working in a coherent fashion within a larger system/network.

I believe anyone can lead within a specific context/situation, but not anyone is good at consistent leadership of an entire business <which is about coordinating people and resources>.

But today I tackle both to discuss power and who has the power in a business.

I use community as a reflection of people and systems. Communities, inevitably, are people, yet, they are peoples within people which are systems within a system. Networks, networked, I don’t care. People and systems (hopefully) working in some coherent fashion. Which leads me to leaders and leadership. I believe every community has a leader. I cannot think of one community, even within a democratized organization, who does not have a ‘leader’ or people they would turn to lead in times when it was felt leadership was needed.


Given that, I have some beliefs about leaders:

Leaders are OF a community

Leaders derive power by how well they understand what needs to be done

Leaders need to empathetic to the needs of the community more so than of the individual

Leaders make decisions as mostly determined by forces beyond their control (bounded), but, free to carve out success within what is bounded.

Leaders are dependent upon how well they make this apparent, and useful, to the community.

In other words, the community holds the power whether they know it or not.

Which leads me to free will and determinism.

Organizational free will, embodied in a community within a corporate vision, suggests success is a result of our choices. It also suggests the business is free of constraints as if choices dissolve constraints. Conversely, determinism does not mean the community is completely determined by forces beyond its control, but rather that the situation, or the terrain the business is established on and where it is, bounds its success and organizational life. In other words, business reality is shaped, and lived, within constraints limiting options to make the most of possibilities presented to the business. I would argue that most businesses reside in a deterministic world (for the most part). Yes. People will throw exceptions at me, but the reality is a significant majority of business is determined by the place it exists (geography, community, people) and its reason for being (intent/vision/benefit offered that earns profit). I imagine I am suggesting organizations, and communities in a business, do not actually act with free will. Much of what happens is determined by circumstances.

** note: some people may call this organizational bias.

To conclude this thought I had this scribbled down <without a source>: “free will exists, but the menu from which we choose is determined, and, for most of us, there is no ordering outside of the menu.”

Which leads me to community and communities.

Communities are driven by necessities* (see footnote for how I arrived at necessities). I purposefully use necessities because it more than simplistic survival or needs. Yes. Survival is at the foundation, but the way a community survives can almost be as important to the cohesiveness of the community than survival itself. And while individuals do matter (communities are collections of people) the truth is that in business <and in society>, communities can shift the necessities and desires of individuals. I imagine that last thought nudges a community from survivability to thriveability.

Which leads me to ‘community capital.’

A community owns their ‘capital.’ I believe it is called social capital <“resources embedded in a network, accessed, and used by actors for actions”>. Therein lies their power as they attempt to apply their free will in a deterministic construct. Circling back to necessities, I would argue that we ignore all the organizational mumbo jumbo and ponder the concept of necessity as what drives community even moreso than individuals. I bring that up because absent of any leader it would behoove us to understand the role of that social capital and how the community elects to, or doesn’t elect to, apply that social capital. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the community social capital can be applied begrudgingly, halfheartedly, or with its full force.

Which leads me to leaders.

Communities are represented by a wide array of arrangements in which people organize themselves. And within their distinct structural organization there are countless ways to organize them. Regardless of the structure or how organized I would suggest they are all similar in one way- they have leaders. How leaders are selected, what power they have and how they can use it varies widely, but in the end, all communities have leaders.

This then leads us to the ultimate leadership question – are leaders simply “agents of community necessity” im­posed on them or are they free to take their com­munities where they deem a destination worth leading to?

I would argue leaders are a function of the community they represent and all decisions have to be grounded in the necessity of the community, constrained by that reality, in order to be an effective leader. I imagine I am suggesting a leader is borne of community necessity.

This flies in the face of the ‘determinism’ belief that a leader controls events. My argument is that leaders have some influence on minor issues, but they are trapped on major ones.

** note: I am not “anti-be-nice-to-people” or anti-psychological safety or even anti-empathy, it’s just that I believe all of those things have to be subservient to the necessities of the community, therefore, in service to. If they aren’t you, or a leader, simply becomes a therapist, not a decisionmaker for and of the community. I am pro-necessity or ‘needs fulfiller decisionmaker’. I do worry, on occasion, that happiness, or engagement as a broad concept, is being tied so tightly to organizational success that it is suffocating the larger perspective – influencing events to the benefit of the business.

In part what I am suggesting is that a leader is almost irrelevant except as an agent of the community (operations are necessarily necessities to the community, but of importance to the business itself not). They do what they have to do within the context that exists – or in other words, you really do not have as many options as you may think. Any leader could do that. The tighter the context constraints the easier it is to lead. The more necessity the community exhibits the easier it is to lead. The good leader understands the constraints – all of them – under which the business, community and resources operate and in understanding them makes decisions and takes actions. Conversely, not taking action on the part of the community necessities absolves them of leadership status because failure to do so does not meet the needs of the community. This doesn’t mean a leader doesn’t have some discretion on the details or even indulge themselves on what often seems to be an infinite number of minor issues, but, on the major issues of community, the necessities, the community dictates the action – or the leader ceases to exist.

Which leads me to power.

The more a leader understands the disciplines of ‘rule’ and the realities of the business, the more pow­erful they become. Power does not free leaders to be arbitrary, but drives them to understand what they must do. Reality, or context, creates leaders and then they serve that reality. I believe Machiavelli said something similar in that “a prince can govern only if he understands what he must do and is good at doing it.” Leader power is in under­standing of what needs to be done. Without that understanding they would not have had power. In fact, the deeper the understanding and the more the business seeks to funnel that understanding into the gestalt of the business itself, the more power the leader gains. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out this could be good or bad.

Regardless. This does not mean a leader does not have personal beliefs, but those beliefs are subservient to the community. They can be aligned with community beliefs <this can be good or bad depending on whether the community has good intentions or bad intentions> or their beliefs can be simply power <which can be good or bad depending on whether they seek to steer a good community to good or subvert a community to nefarious or dubious objectives>.

But I think it is absurd to suggest a leader is objective or indifferent to the world in order to make the best decisions. A leader is subservient to the community and the context, therefore, their power is only in serving the situation, the context, to the benefit of the community** (see footnote on community versus shareholders).

The corollary to all I am suggesting is that if a community is misguided with their understanding of what will benefit them, they will likely find a leader who will exploit this.

In the end.

After thinking about this a bit, it seems like the business world has things turned upside down. We make leaders and leadership heroic and captains and suggest most communities are some versions of sheep. The truth is that communities have the power and leaders, and good leadership, is using the power they do not have, the community’s, to the benefit of the community <the business>.


“Order exists because a system of beliefs and sentiments held by members of a society sets limits to what those members can do.”

James Q. Wilson wrote in The Moral Sense


*necessities: Necessity, or necessities, is a tricky word and concept. It spans a spectrum between require, lack, need and want. That said. From a mindset standpoint, as in from a community perspective, they are all grounded in ‘essentialness.’ Buried within all is a sense of “essential to me” in some form or fashion. I bring this up because in this sense the difference between need and want is almost irrelevant. The difference is important; but its relevance to the relationship in understanding the community is almost irrelevant.

Which leads me to yearn.

Yearn points to an inclination that is continually present as a gnawing feeling of a lack of something – either for a clearly defined object or for something more abstract. In understanding the community, in terms of leadership, understanding what they yearn for may be just as important as what they need.

Which leads me to primary versus secondary.

I sometimes refer to this in terms of ‘minor versus major’ but the reality is more secondary versus primary. A community will inevitably have primary ‘necessities’, across the full spectrum, which need to be addressed while an organization itself can generate secondary issues which need to be addressed to thrive in the larger market place. I word it this way to suggest secondary issues can be ‘organizational survival issues’, i.e., very important, and yet not be community primary issues.

**community versus shareholders: Leaders always reside in a liminal space between internal organization and external market (this can include shareholders). I would suggest, for today’s discussion, if a leader fosters the community as an agent of its necessities the shareholders will benefit as an outcome. That does not always mean community outcomes will always equal shareholder desires, just that shareholder desires are not community necessities and using them as one is a recipe for leadership disaster.

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Written by Bruce