City Views

CityViews 10/31/11: Questioning Leadership



Segment 1:

From business to government to the PTA, leaders define expectations, set priorities and point out a way forward. They get credit for increased sales or blame for a public gaffe, but few argue that having leaders is a bad idea. But Professor Jeffrey Nielsen makes the case for a leaderless paradigm.


  • Jeffrey Nielsen, Westminster College and Utah Valley University

Segment 2:

What’s the secret to living a long life? Utah researchers say genealogy and DNA may hold the answers.


  • Dr. Richard Cawthon, geneticist, University of Utah
  • Dr. Ken Smith, medical sociologist, University of Utah

Follow CityViews on Twitter @CityViewsSLC.

City Views
City Views was a daily public affairs program that ran on KCPW from 2011 to 2013. It was hosted by Jennifer Napier-Pearce, who later went on launch and host "Behind the Headlines," the weekly news roundup from KCPW and The Salt Lake Tribune. The show featured news reports and interviews with policymakers, local newsmakers and
On Air

1:00 AM


    Your guest Jeffrey Neilson expressed some interesting albeit ideal and unrealistic ideas when speaking of his hypothesis of leaderless movements, companies and organizations. I say hypothesis because all of his ideas were idealistic conjecture that has not been tested, or proved possible or plausible by any existing organization that has implemented a leaderless system. He himself said that for 10,000 years the world has operated in this way, there was not a single civilization or year out of those 10,000 that he could cite a civilization, successful or not, that implemented this leaderless system, not even in current times.

    Take the only example he did bring up about his friend that started the business because he was not being listened to in his previous position at his past place of employment. Firstly this example itself is an example of a “follower” using his freedom (even in a leader driven society) to switch the balance and go from being a “follower” to a “leader”. Had he not felt stifled by his position would he have ever been inspired to form his own company that has lead him to so much success and fulfillment? Did he truly not recruit others to his vision as he “led” them into a new career? And does he truly not direct or “lead” HIS employees as he works to keep his company functioning? Even in that situation where Jeffery said that all of his friend’s employees were associates that worked together without official leadership or managers. He claimed that the business ran almost-without managers or leadership. Virtually without, or almost-without suggests that there is leadership involved at some level with the company (although Jeffery tried to minimize that reality). So in other words the company does rely on leadership to make the company function, in which case the company has layers of workers with completely equal status, with at least one or more leaders above them, directing their work and the general direction of the company. So his example is not leaderless because an organization will either function completely leader free or not, it is either leaderless or not. Which this company is obviously is leader based.

    Like one of your callers I am wondering if Jeffrey has ever really tested his hypotheses to create a truly leaderless organization. He artfully dodged the question because I am most certain that he has not. Had he done so he would have jumped at the opportunity to inform all listeners about the thriving organization. Has Jeffrey ever formed a business, and does he truly understand how that process begins and actually functions. Does he understands that it takes a person with the vision to direct and lead other individuals in their roles to make it function and thrive. Has he even seen how a ship and its crew function especially in a storm. To test his hypothesis would he ever attempted to see what would happen if the captain was taken out of the mix, Does he understand that without a captain directing his men the ship would flounder and could ultimately be lost. And inevitably if the captain was removed, another proactive member of the crew would have to rise to fill his place and direct all members in how to work together to keep the ship above water.

    To test his hypothesis would Jeffrey ever have two evenly matched sports teams train to compete against each other, one with a coach, one without? I would be interested to see if the coach-less team would function without a “leader” or if in the end one main player wouldn’t step up to direct the training of his fellow players (essentially becoming the coach, making it a leader based team). If the leaderless team did remain leaderless how could they train as a team? Without a coach, organized, coherent, group training would be difficult if not impossible because each player would be left up to their own devices to train themselves without harking to one leading voice. During the game, how would each player in the leaderless team know his movement and position? How would all of the strategic plays and choices be made and agreed upon by all players? In the end how would each teams perform against the other? How long would a truly leaderless team hold up against an organized structured coach-directed team?

    What Jeffrey does not realize is how groups of people, or organizations, really work, and he seems to understand less about how they thrive. You could not even put a small group of students together with a common classroom task without seeing one or two of them rise to lead and direct the others in accomplishing their work efficiently and productively. And his desire to pit the march on Wall Street crowds as leaderless groups is incredibly naïve. As stated by another caller (who had actually spent time amongst the Salt Lake City protesters unlike Jeffrey) this group is not leaderless, in fact there are many individuals, mainly those who organized the protest, which hold the leadership positions and lead the masses in their activities. In other words you can call it leaderless, and claim there are not leaders only “directors”, but change the verbiage all you like, a rose by any other name is still as sweet, and is still a rose.

    Jeffrey’s hypothesis is utopian and idealistic and therefore futile because it falls apart in its application, and the application is the only thing that truly matters. Being able to truly and successfully bring speculation to life is what sets apart a vapid daydream from a valid idea, or a hypothesis from a theory. If it cannot stand up to valid testing and cannot hold up in real life even in the most diminutive and uncomplicated of settings, why spend your time advocating it as a valid and viable solution?

    Excuse my bad grammar in paragraph 3 line 6, I did mean to say “Does he understand”

    From FB:

    I loved the piece on leaderless groups. Even had a great discussion about it afterward. Buying that book. Thanks.

    Jayson Beagley

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