Tea Party lacking "post-heroic leadership"
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?
Distributive leadership is a term that goes by many different names. One of my favorites is "post-heroic" leadership--a term I first heard from Joyce Fletcher of Simmons College. Such leadership is characterized as being participatory, relational and collaborative, and it does not rely on a single omnipotent figure or hero. This kind of structure can often feel more inclusive, as it has the potential to ground itself in shared values and concerns rather than only mirror concerns of a figurehead. When leadership is distributed, however, participants of a movement must at least feel as though they are putting themselves in an environment that is built upon "trust, respect and moral force".
The Tea Party, particularly its earlier incarnation, has not included these three important and invaluable qualities. Yes, leadership is distributed throughout their ranks due to a lack of true leader, but as a result the movement is confused and spread thin. Far too often it has substituted hate for trust, anger instead of respect, and rhetoric in the place of moral force.
My work with The White House Project, where we train thousands of women to lead and run for office, is what drew me to the notion of "post heroic leadership". After all, women have little access to formal "heroic" authority and, as Ron Heifitz of Harvard would say, have had to "lead from the foot of the table."
Regardless of gender, those who wish to participate and thrive within a structure of distributive leadership must embody, as Heifitz says, "a perspective that merits attention." I would argue that the Tea Party lacks such a perspective. While the struggles the Tea Party embraces mirror dominant concerns - how those concerns are distributed results in expressions of racism and disrespect. If they want to affect change and really make progress with their goals and concerns they will have to attempt to harness moral integrity before it is too late.