This is the second in a series of posts which articulate fundamental shifts in leadership paradigms from the 20th to the 21st Century.
For centuries leading into the 1900s, social structures were built on polarizing differentials that distinguished elite classes of people. The monarchy, patricians, nobility, priests, popes, brahmin, chiefs, headmen and countless other groups were designated more important than and superior to other groups. Moving towards modernity, elitist principles designated an increasing number of favoured groups from industrialists, scientists, and entertainers to the wealthy, talented and beautiful. At the same time, many traditional socially elite classes were overthrown or dismantled, leaving space for eliticism to emerge in more subtle and populist guises such as patriarchy, aryanism and heterophilia.
Whilst the 21st Century is far from devoid of an elite, these notions are constantly under attack, and deeply entrenched habits of superiority are being called into question. Being white, straight, able-bodied, good-looking or male may even place some individuals at a distinct disadvantage as more egalitarian or democratic societies seek to redress historical inequities. Whilst we may not have eliminated the principle of elitism, we have myriad examples of people attaining elite status on the merits of their efforts rather than an accident of birth. We must by now be aware that anyone can position themselves as royalty within a niche.
Astute 21st Century Leaders can no longer afford to view themselves as superior beings. They reject the notion of leadership elitism. They must find a way to navigate an identity with and among everyone and expect no favouritism, exceptional adulation or privilege. At the same time, excellence can serve society and leaders need to develop their capacity to contribute and find ways to make their competence known so that it can be applied in ways that matter. It is up to Astute Leaders to promote the credibility of those who add real value to the world, to ensure that the elite of this century are those who contribute effective responses to our greatest challenges. Astute individuals will cease to attribute or promote status on the basis of irrelevant demographics or meaningless tradition.
Reflection question: As an Astute Leader, how can you gain elite status in a niche area and simultaneously promote the equal value of others?
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