What the F*** Does Corbyn Know About Leadership?
By : David Schofield -
5 Minute Read
The UK’s Labour Party Leadership Election is won. Next… Is Jeremy Corbyn the man we need to lead the country?!
“This kind of (genuine) leadership (within community and voluntary organisations) relationship is something that is quite special and memorable…” “…It’s something that we should aim for if we wish to secure a sustainable future for everybody on the planet: the kind of leadership that is required if we are to confront complex and massive scale issues such as global warming, poverty and the control of virulent diseases. Leaders will continue to play an important role in this relationship. We will still need leaders, but they will be different types of leaders.”
Whilst writing my masters dissertation on leadership within community and voluntary organisations, I came across the above quote in Jackson and Parry’s “A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about studying leadership”.
This quote inspired me to focus my research on discovering what convinced these two leadership experts that community and voluntary organisational leaders were so exceptional.
In this article I’ll be making the case that, as a community and voluntary organisational leader, Jeremy Corbyn has the profile required to bring the type of change we need to confront the “complex and massive scale issues” that we’re facing today. Sorry about the click bate title.
The leadership theories that stood out most prominently among the literature included the following.
Distributed leadership theories claim leadership to be a collective social process. The roles of leader and follower emerge and change depending on the requirements of a situation and the experience of those involved. This indicates a reliance on personal “referent” power as opposed to positional power that was given to them by someone of higher authority. Teams that exhibit distribution appear to be more successful than other, more leader-centred organisations and they also allow followers to achieve their higher order needs (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Therefore it seems that distributed leadership has some applicability to community and voluntary organisations. This is the functional model of worker’s co-operatives. In my experience of working for the Unicorn Grocery in Manchester, the co-operative structure is superior in the benefits it brings to its members/employees.
Read more about Distributed Leadership.
Servant leaders’ main focus is on serving followers, without this being a means to enlisting support toward achieving the organisation’s aims. However, it is impossible to be certain of a leader’s true intentions. Servant leaders aim to empower followers to achieve their higher order needs and they also seem to rely heavily on their personal power. Servant leaders also aim to create a sense of community, which is brought about by selecting people who fit with the organisation’s culture. They then shape the organisation to fit these peoples’ talents instead of pushing them (as traditional organisations do) to fill the gaps found within the fixed structure. Therefore it seems that servant leadership holds great applicability toward community and voluntary organisations – a statement that has been supported in the literature. Greenleaf’s interest in community seems to further supports his theory’s application to community and voluntary organisations. As a leader, I find that when I am in service to others, instead of when trying to fulfill some material or egotistic need, I am much better at getting things done. I had this experience when managing my team of volunteers at The Local Veg Box.
Read more about Servant Leadership.
I then went on to interview several community and voluntary organisational leaders and cross-referenced my findings with the literature. I ended up with a set of characteristics and beliefs that I found to be present in such leaders. These, in no particular order are:
(a) passion, (b) belief in self and vision, (c) belief in community, (d) belief in equality and uniqueness of individuals, (e) commitment to empowerment and personal development of followers, (f) experienced in overcoming challenges, (g) humility and an aversion to cultish behaviour, (h) belief in building a culture of shared aims, (i) belief in enjoying life, (j) leading by example, (k) inclusion of followers in decision-making, (l) compassion, (m) being genuine, (n) understanding of psychology, (o) motivation and human needs, (p) self-reflective.
With the recent Labour party leadership election in the UK, we have seen Mr. Corbyn announce that he is redesigning the way that the party campaigns. This is as a result of more than doubling the party’s membership to be the biggest political organisation in Western Europe. He often refers to his approach as a social movement. A community and voluntary organisation if you will, that will move forward by educating and emboldening tens of thousands of labour members to campaign on behalf of the party on the run up to the next general election.
With the announcement of the Labour Organising Academy, we see the Corbyn team preparing to hand-over the campaigning reigns to its membership. Corbyn’s stubborn refusal to submit to his peers’ leadership challenge was due, he claims, to his respect for the mandate given to him by the Labour membership. This clearly shows that he considers his leadership a service and a duty to those who elected him.
(b) belief in self and vision, (m) being genuine – Corbyn always seems to end up on the right side of history. He remains fervently committed to his vision of a better society, usually, and for a long time, against the majority opinion. This belief in his self indicates a strong level of sense and self-awareness (his positions have remained largely static), allowing him to behave genuinely as himself and confident in his vision. Only to be validated once the damage has been done. Read more.
(f) experienced in overcoming challenges – Having been elected as Labour leader he faced constant challenges, mockery and attempts at intimidation, often at the hands of his colleagues. He has, with grace and humility, remained steadfast in his commitment to the people who elected him. And now, winning his second labour leadership election in as many years.
(j) leading by example – This can be seen in his insistence on taking public transport and keeping his expenses (our tax money) to a bare minimum – less that £10 per year. And so should all MPs, whilst earning a basic salary of over £70,000.
(n) understanding of psychology – Corbyn has created some strong policies surrounding mental health and was responsible for the UK’s new Mental Health Minister. Read more.
So, in 2020, maybe sooner, our nation will have to decide if Corbyn is capable of leading the government. Well, if we’re to take him as a leader of a community and voluntary organisation (albeit a rather large one), then my opinion is that yes he does!
He displays many of the characteristics I identified in successful community and voluntary organisational leaders. He certainly seems to be a “different kind of leader”, perhaps the kind that Jackson and Parry predicted would emerge as a result of the challenges the world currently faces.
Mainstream politics has been so useless at solving the problems of the world for so very long. And we’re bored. We’re sick and tired of the lies and deceit. Ideally our society would operate in a way that equally distributes responsibility among its citizens. A co-operative approach. However, not everyone is informed, nor skilled in leadership. So we need someone in the meantime who can help guide those of us who aren’t, toward taking responsibility for ourselves and our communities. We want someone who will be genuine and stand up for our beliefs in the inter-rim. We want someone who won’t represent the interests of a corporate elite or the minority whom the system serves very well currently. Instead we want someone who will represent all of the people in our country. This will be a ripple of hope in a dirty pond. One that will reach the progressive initiatives of other nations and move us toward a better world.
If all that Corbyn does is move us in a favourable direction, toward a more just, peaceful and regenerative society, then I support him. I hope you will too.