Leadership In Crisis: How to Encourage Democratic Leadership

 

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the director of Intact Academy and Team Agility. At Team Agility we help businesses innovate more quickly than their products to accelerate their time to market. In Intact Academy we organize accredited training programs for coaches and consultants to themselves and their practice. I’ve been a consultant for 35 years and a leader in multinational businesses for 23 years. This series of blogs is a way for me to transfer my knowledge to a new generation.

In these blogs I’ve been talking about my ideas about coaching and consultancy and the development of systems and leadership. I’m really fascinated in this Corona time about the development of autocratic systems. Will we be able to hold on to this change of paradigm from individual responsibility to collective responsibility? Unfortunately you see a split. Either people go back to the normal, or they create something different. You see a re-establishment of democracy or a re-establishment of autocracy.

I’m going to talk more about the establishment of autocratic systems. In the last video we looked at the five stages of their development. In this blog, I’d like to talk about how you can prevent this from happening. How can we encourage democratic systems instead of autocratic systems? 

How to encourage a democratic system:

 

1. Satisfy the unmet needs

 

Followers have unmet needs for structure, but also for recognition. In a sect, unfortunately, the structure is high and the recognition is high. So if you do something to please master you’re set for life. One way to create a more democratic system is to make sure that our people have filled their tanks with enough recognition, so that they don’t need to get it from someone else. 

The basic role of a relationship is you have to find someone who wants you, not someone who needs you. That is one of the rules for creating democratic systems. People want to belong, they don’t need to belong. So if we can find a way to diminish the unmet needs in a population, then we can create more autonomy in a system. 

 

2. Keep boundaries open

 

In an autocratic system the boundaries are closed, so people can come in, but they can’t go out. It’s really important to keep democracy, and that democratic energy flowing by keeping the boundaries permeable. Even in a state of emergency you keep the information going in and out. You keep people going in and out, you keep money flowing in and out. Because if you don’t allow that movement, then a system becomes stagnant and with any stagnant system there’s a danger of autocracy. So keeping the permeability of boundaries even in crisis is a very important rule to keep democracy going.

 

3. Deal with the police force

 

This is a theme at the moment because we have protests because of the murder of George Floyd, by the police in America. What we see in an autocracy is that the police act as the arm of the law as an extension of the master, and they mix moral police with military police. In the United States, they are calling in the military police for an internal struggle, which is a typical sign of autocracy. Very unfortunate. I have compassion for my American friends. 

One of the really important things to keep a democracy going is to keep the police in a humane position where they are the third party in maintaining law and order. So not an extension, but an independent upholder of law. 

 

4. The constitution

 

If you look at the constitution of autocratic systems it reads the same way as a democratic constitution. There is just one difference, and that is that in a democratic constitution, there is always a clause about how you can change the constitution. In an autocratic system that’s the one clause that’s missing. 

 

I lived in Hungary for 27 years, the Iron Curtain had just fallen in ‘92, I saw the establishment of democracy and I saw the re-emergence of modern autocracy with Orban. The first thing president Orban did was to ban the first parliament. In Holland, we have a second and first parliament: the second parliament proposes law and the first parliament can amend it or ratify it. Within a week Orban banned the first parliament so that he could pass laws himself through the second parliament. He also changed the constitution. You see that in Russia as well, they changed the constitution so that they can become leaders forever. Instead of democratic elections every four years, they changed the constitution so  that they extended their leadership. They also made the changing of the constitution almost impossible. For any system to stay democratic you have to make sure that there’s a clause to change the constitution.

 

5. Your leadership

 

If you want to maintain democracy as a leader, you have to discourage dependency and encourage autonomy. Anytime someone says to you, Oh, you’re the only one, Oh, I came because of you. It’s really important to push people back anyway with kindness and say, it’s your decision. You have a right to decide within this framework. This is your way to do it. That’s not my job as a leader. 

As responsible members of society, we can actually encourage democracy as well. It’s not just the leaders of our state who can do that. I really encourage you to be democratic, to accept differences and to accept diversity in your communities and to encourage autonomy.