Most anthropologists and sociologists will tell us that human leadership developed exactly the same as it does in the animal kingdom: the biggest and strongest gets to be the boss. In pre-historic times, the one who can beat up everyone else is the leader. Domination of the fitest. Even today we like leaders who are tall, good looking, strong, smart, and male.
As society progressed, authority became understood as divinely appointed. Nearly all cultures, at some point, have believed that their leader was either appointed by a god or was the embodiment of a god.
In the modern era the idea has emerged that “knowledge is power.” This means that it is not just the strongest who will be in charge, it is the one who knows the most. We have respected the authority of professors, doctors, ministers, and experts of any kind because they have known more than us. The basis of authority changed from strength to knowledge.
It is changing again.
Expert status is no longer reserved for a select few. Thanks to WebMD we are all medical experts. Wikipedia puts the combined knowledge of the entire planet at our finger tips. YouTube allows us to find an instructional video about fixing our cars in seconds. The nature of knowledge has changed. We are all experts. This means that an authority structure based on knowledge will soon end.
In the past, questioning authority has been seen as a rebellious position. For those who have grown up in a world of constant access to knowledge, questioning authority is the default position.
For some in leadership positions, this can be quite disconcerting. We might even try to go back to the old ideas divine right. “Do what I say, because I speak for God.” It won’t work. I submit that we must find a new way to lead. In a world where authority is no longer based on strength or knowledge, we have to discover new ways to influence others.
The influential leader is no longer the one who stands in the pulpit above the rest of us. The influential leader is the one who comes along side and relates to me. The influential leader cannot be afraid of those who would question authority, but welcome it as an opportunity to relate to people in new ways.