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Mickey Edwards
Political leader

Mickey Edwards

Former U.S. Congressman, Mickey Edwards is vice president of the Aspen Institute, where he directs the Institute's Rodel Fellowships in Public Leadership.

Decentralized leadership can break things, but it can't build them

Q: Has the recent success of the Tea Party come because of, or in spite of, the movement's lack of a formal leadership structure? Along with Wikipedia, open-source software and organizations like moveon.org, is this another example of the power of distributed leadership?

Whether centralized or decentralized leadership is better depends on the purposes (the mission), the short-term goals and the long-term goals of of the organization. "Stirring the pot", "getting attention", "breaking the dishes" -- all those things can be accomplished without any kind of formal or central management. But achieving a specific end most often requires a leadership structure to ensure focus.

One of the better examples of a letter structure that was semi-centralized but insufficiently formal was the campaign for the passage of an equal rights amendment to the Constitution. By "letting a thousand flowers bloom," the campaign for an otherwise worthy cause became seen by many as a mishmash of feminists, socialists, gay rights and transgendered activists, etc.--a perception that took away from the simple man-woman equality issue.

Real leadership has many parts: framing the message, developing a coherent strategy, setting clear and achievable goals. Too informal or too decentralized a structure can break things; but it's a lot harder to build things that way.

By Mickey Edwards

 |  September 21, 2010; 2:21 PM ET
Category:  Government leadership , Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Of hope and havoc | Next: The power of shared principles


Please report offensive comments below.

Why are the American People treating the terroist group known as the “tea party’ any different than the terroist group known as the “taliban”. Both groups use hatred and fear as their weapons of choice. Why?

Posted by: rkornegay1 | September 21, 2010 4:50 PM
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