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The Dilemma of the “Unreasonable” Leader

The “unreasonable” man or woman is sometimes said to be the primary agent of change in a culture. Reasonable people adapt to their sur

roundings; unreasonable individuals change those surroundings to better suit their needs. The strength of an unreasonable leader is the ability to think outside the current paradigm and envision entirely new possibilities. This is the leader who comes in and turns a place on its ear. Suddenly everything feels different. Expectations are astronomically higher. Stability is not valued. Change is initiated everywhere. Old assumptions are flushed into the open and challenged. The pace is significantly accelerated. Relationships are altered. The universe is no longer as we knew it.

“Unreasonable” leaders can make even courageous followers uncomfortable with the scope and rate of change. We may resist such leaders and be fearful of the consequences of their actions. Yet these may be the very actions that the organization needs to survive or to create breakthroughs. In our inability to see beyond our paradigm, to appreciate the leader’s prescience, to cope with the discomfort created, we may be tempted to withdraw our support though the leader fully deserves it.

How can we differentiate between our inertia and fears and our legitimate concerns for the organization in the hands of an iconoclastic leader? Once again, values and purpose must be our guiding lights:

Are the core values of the community and organization being respected? (Not the peripheral values, but the core values.)

Are peripheral values that do not forward the common purpose being challenged? In a social service agency, for example, going easy on staff and not pushing them may have become a value that lowered the quantity and quality of badly needed services.

Are the twin tests of honesty and decency being met? They are important barometers of the respect being shown for core values; if the leader is communicating honestly and people are treated decently, even when they have to be moved aside to get the job done, power is being used not abused.

Is the flurry of actions being taken geared to achieve the common purpose and not some other agenda of the leader’s?

Are the risks being taken justified? The “unreasonable” leader may take high risks, as leaders sometimes must, but those high risks should outweigh the risks of inaction or “safe” action.

Are the processes of group input respected while being accelerated, so the organization becomes a stronger team, more capable of achieving its purpose over time?

If values are being respected and the purpose is being served, we can get aboard the leader’s express. If they are not, his actions must be challenged. Brilliance and dynamism without strong, decent values are untrustworthy vehicles for power, regardless of their expediency.