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The typical picture of an authoritarian leader is someone who wishes to control puppets... making them unthinking robots, ready to do whatever the authoritarian leader should happen to decree.

But not enough thought has been given to the role of followers in actually creating this stereotype. It is hard to believe that any leader (no matter how evil he/she might be) would want followers who cannot weigh up the pros and cons in any given situation, in order to determine which of the leader's many instructions would be most relevant for that situation.

The U.S. military is training dolphins as suicide bombers... the ultimate puppets being manipulated by pretty close to the ultimate authoritarians. The idea is that the army leaders can strap a bomb to the dolphin's back and send it toward an enemy ship. But even these unthinking dolphin robots would be more effective and more useful to the U.S. military if they could be trained to deal with other circumstances that might come up on their way to their death, so that they could be more flexible and more efficient in what they have been trained to do. For example, might it not be better for everyone concerned, if the dolphin could decide under certain circumstances to abort a mission and return to base (assuming that the circumstances are that the mission is likely to fail)... so that it could be used again at a more opportune time? So even if we find the overall scenario distasteful, we can see that these leaders would prefer to have something other than robots to manipulate.

Similarly, we leaders (the good as well as the bad) want followers who can think for themselves. Obviously, we would like them to come to similar conclusions to ourselves, and if their conclusions are regularly and diametrically opposed to our own, they (and we) might be better off if they worked with someone besides ourselves. However, assuming that we agree on certain overall objectives, much more can be achieved through mature, confident and humble "counsel", than through robotic obedience to orders.

There is, however, a fairly universal (though often subconscious) awareness amongst all followers of "other options" besides working with the group with which you are presently working. This awareness creates a kind of "double-mindedness" about the present relationship. You have something to gain by the present relationship, and so you want to comply to a certain extent. But if it should happen that you decide to leave, it would be convenient to have a good case to defend such a decision. "Authoritarianism" is one such case --and it is often accepted unthinkingly by the general public. Tell people that you left a group (any group) because the leaders were power-hungry, and most people will sympathise with you.

But how do you accuse a leader of being too authoritarian if that leader actually seeks out your counsel on decisions? And what if that leader actually invites you to express disagreements, and even to bring in other witnesses if you think your side is not being heard fairly?

The way around such fairness is "compliance in defiance". You don't bother taking a grievance against such a leader. (Later you can say that it was because the leader only brings in more robots to support himself/herself.) You don't even tell the leader that you disagree (because if you did, then he/she would push for a resolution in a grievance meeting). By hiding your disagreements, you can appear to be the most compliant possible follower. If it later becomes clear that you did have disagreements, but you never brought them up, you can always say that it was because you were not confident that you were right. That, too, would sound quite humble.

And then you do like the robotic dolphin. You comply in an all-or-nothing obedience to whatever the latest "order" happens to be. (Even if it is not given as an order, you can pretend that you understood it to be an order.) There is always some way to make the compliance backfire in the leader's face too, so that it will look like the problem came from extremes on the part of the leader, and not defiance on your own part. If the leader complains about the stuff-up, you just apologise. If he/she questions the apology, you offer to verbally 'sign' whatever amendments he/she might wish to add to the apology. How could they possibly ask for more?!

What will happen if you take this approach, is that you will find yourself with overwhelming evidence to support your theory that the leader is a power-hungry, irrational dictator. After all, you blindly obeyed whatever you were told (or whatever you "understood" that you were being told) to do, and still your leader was not satisfied! The harder you tried, (you can say) the more misunderstood you became.

What a perfect formula for disaster! Can you see what a self-fulfilling prophecy this approach becomes? You put your leader into a Catch-22, where you are going to outwardly comply with anything expected of you, but at the same time you are always going to be told that you are wrong... simply because you refused to think through the true spirit of what was being said.

Even instructions to "think for yourself" can be complied with by doing something in defiance of your leader... on the grounds that you were just trying to comply with the demand that you think for yourself. It will further upset him/her, but you can see it as just one more attempt on your part to appease an unreasonable leader. The more you take this approach, the more you will become the martyr, and the more your leader will become the monster you have set out to make him/her.

Well, that's the problem. But what is the solution? This article is part of the solution. It is an attempt to get you thinking about the problem. If you can recognise it, that's more than half of the solution... because then you can start working on getting the spirit of what is being said, instead of holding blindly to your own innocence.

As leaders, we must continue to do what we can to get members working together as a team (as opposed to being defiantly compliant). Each time we have sought to point out such problems as this one, some people have accepted the truth in what we have said, and they have made changes.

The really defiant ones will, of course, continue to tell themselves that they have no problem... or, if they do, that it is only slight compared to the awfulness of the group as a whole (and the group's leadership in particular). Such people will eventually slip away altogether, convinced that they were innocent victims of a cruel regime. Some will go quickly. Others will go slowly. But without a fundamental change in their defiant compliance, they will all go eventually; because, in spirt, they are already gone now.

(See also Sociology Lessons.)

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