Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Allegory of the Cave and the Origins of Leadership

The fundamental elements of leadership began in Ancient Greece, and the two events we studied this week exemplify two very unique, but equally important aspects of leadership. First of all, in Plato's “Allegory of the Cave,” there are a number of important leadership qualities exemplified by the author. As we saw last unit, Socrates (and his student, Plato) were products of the Democratic city-state of Athens in ancient Greece in the years (roughly) 440-399 BCE. As citizens of the world's first democracy, they lived in an environment that promoted discussion of who would make the best leader (because each citizen had a right to vote for leaders, it was only natural to discuss what characteristics that person should have. Conversely, in a dictatorship, its not really as necessary to talk about the virtues of a potential leader. Pretty much the guy with the best army is going to end all that discussion.)

As seen in the picture below, the cave consists of three parts. The average citizens of a society are represented by the individuals in chains, staring at the wall. The shadows projected by the people walking in front of the fire are the reality for the average citizens. Only by escaping the cave and entering the “light” of knowledge will the average citizen escape the false reality that exists in the cave.

So where does leadership come in? Its simple: a true leader has two abilities: (1.) the ability to escape the false reality of the cave and enter enlightenment, and (2.) the ability to return to the cave and convince the average person to join him or her outside of the cave and into knowledge. Of course, this is easier said than done, as confronting the average person with the fact that everything they have ever known is a lie might make them, ummm....not so happy. They'll probably think that leader is crazy, and if he/she persists, the group will probably kill him/her. Thus, the effective leader knows how to speak to the average person in a way that convinces them that this leader is doing things in their best interests. This is known as developing empathy. In other words, the leader understands the needs of the people, and instead of talking down to them, explains the reasons why his choice of actions will be better for everyone. This, of course, is a huge risk for the potential leader. But, according to Socrates, leadership cannot happen unless you have the willingness to accept the risk that comes with the responsibilities of leading a group of people.

A leader is both intelligent and charismatic-he knows what's best and can convince the average person that he's right. That's why Socrates referred to this theoretical person as the “Philosopher King”.

Does this kind of person exist? Socrates said he hadn't seen anyone ever earn the title “Philosopher King.” Furthermore, can this type of person ever exist? Or will we (comfortable looking at our own “shadows”) destroy anyone who ever attempts to lead in this fashion?


ColeSlaw said...

At first, it was hard for me to develop my own concept of leadership from this reading, however through time i found one that was a little bit altered. I identified the cave as a bubble of ignorance. I say this because, the cave provides a false concept of the true hope, therefore they think that the cave is all they need to know about. Hence the name ignorance. Then when that shadow leaves from the cave and that dark wall and continue into the light, he discovers the new world. He or she discovers a bountiful amount of knowledge from the sun and returns to a cave. When he returns back to the cave to notify the other shadows, one who would be a good leader will give them the option. The option to let the people stay there, or place down the facts of what the leader has learned and let the people trust him and go with him. This way the leader does not pressure the people and let them stay in their bubble of ignorance. If a leader pressures people to make a choice, or forces them into decisions, they become zombies that are to afraid to retaliate and then the rest of your societies choices and future or your team's future is under one persons choices. That in which could lead to bad decisions or controversies and a bad future. That's why the leader must be accepting that other people may not want to follow and if they want to stay in their current position, let them.

la bomba internacional said...

Pertaining to the allegory and leadership, the former captive who returns has to become adjusted to navigating in the darkness once more. I think that this can also be looked at as learning how to be an effective leader for those still in ignorance. Perhaps cultivating effective communication and developing that empathy. Then there is this Platonic idea of not just attaining wisdom but to complete the "journey" by descending back down to lead the others out of ignorance. I immediately recognized the parallel between this process and that of the Mayan Shaman's Wheel. The shaman would leave the village to see his vision or gain truth, particularly in the the aiding of some sort of social or agricultural problem. The shaman would only be able to complete his journey by returning and being able to impart his enlightenment by leading the people to truth or at least to be a part of the manifestation of truth.

Anyway as a student I needed some extra thinking on the subject, which led me here to this blog. I enjoyed your writing and the other comment left. Cheers and feel free to contact me for more ideas that you might have.

ps- have you read Heidegger-the essence of truth????

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