Studies in Leadership: Leadership and Democratic Action

By Alvin W. Gouldner | Go to book overview

Leadership in a Stress Situation1
BY ALEXANDER H. LEIGHTON
1. 1. The problem which faces the administration of a community under stress is the problem of introducing remedial change. Before such change can be decided upon successfully, there must be understanding of the nature of the stress, the reactions of individuals to it, the effect on systems of belief and the effect on social organization.
2. This does not mean that great change is always necessary, but only that great understanding is. The slight, deft touch is often better than major alterations which--by upsetting total equilibrium--produce quite unexpected and unwanted results. Not infrequently the natural reactions of self-healing in the community are adequate. The point to be stressed is that when an administration decides to do little, it should do so on the basis of comprehension and not a blanket policy of laissez-faire.
3. 2. In producing its elected changes, an administration should select means that are readily workable, not only in terms of the causes of the stress, but also in terms of the way the people are reacting, in terms of their habitual attitudes and beliefs and in terms of their customary forms for dealing with each other. It is never possible to ignore successfully these matters because in human society the cultural slate is never found wiped clean.

It is a common error of idealists and reformers to forget this fact, as was well illustrated at Poston. The people in charge of the schools and adult education brought to the Center a program of a progressive character that seemed to be excellent in itself, and possibly better than anything many of the evacuees had experienced previously. How-

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1
Reprinted from The Governing of Men, by Alexander Leighton, Princeton University Press, 1945. Used by permission of the publishers.

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