Leadership and peacebuilding

Leadership for peacebuilding needs to inspire

The discussion so far, on power and violence, and power and nonviolence, necessitates that we briefly consider leadership. If we have established that peace work must address power, and must do so non-violently by taking up power itself, then the issues of leadership naturally arise. We can now make a few observations of the kind of leadership that might be effective and appropriate.


Non-violent leadership requires consent

Leaders who wield power with violence may simply be appointed to a role, or appoint themselves. They have the opportunity to use a position of authority to direct actions, and exercise ‘power-over’ others without their consent. They may deploy non-violent means (such as charisma or intellect), or violent tools (like fear or coercion) in order to lead. Through such means they are able to enforce their will, and they may do so without consideration of their own conduct or example.


Non-violent leadership on the other is not so easily conferred by position, and cannot be sustained through violent means. The nature of non-violent leadership is that it rests at least in part upon consent. Someone who does not to some significant degree secure this consent, ideally by coming to embody or espouse the values of the group, will find it much harder to secure ‘power-with’ others. However, the advantage that leadership with consent based on shared values has, over manipulative or coercive approaches, is that it goes beyond securing popular acquiescence. It harnesses something powerful within those who are led. That ‘power-with’ has already been discussed.



Non-violent leadership does not allow for short-cuts

Various models and modes of leadership have been proposed, and one spectrum upon which leadership styles can be placed ranges from a technical/ instructional mode through facilitative approaches to delegation and collaboration. Leadership styles may emphasise focus on the task at one end of the spectrum, or the people or process at the other.  Such distinctions are important in peace leadership.  


If a leader uses methods that do not reflect the values of the group, they will quickly erode their position and possibly adversely affect the strength of the team. Short-cuts to task-based results that deliver at the cost of adherence to fundamental shared values are a highly corrosive strategy for peace leaders, because they use up the fundamental building blocks of the group. Peacebuilding strategies should therefore take into account the importance of people and process, as well as results, if they aspire to building a powerful movement.



Leadership as a process, not the activity of an individual

A second aspect of leadership style is the distribution of the role amongst participants. Scouller has put forward the idea of shared leadership. He observes that leadership can sometimes be used as a term to mean the qualities of a leader, but in our field this may not always be helpful. Another way to understand leadership is as an activity or process. As such, different members of a group can exhibit different aspects of leadership at the same time, or from time to time. Leadership can pass through individuals, or flow through a group.  


A well functioning group will have a profusion of skills amongst its members, and at best it will provide many participants the chance to offer their particular qualities to lead at appropriate moments. If this happens no one person is overburdened by the leadership role, and the group or campaign is not vulnerable to the removal of one prominent individual. The process may well be stronger as a result.


Invisible leadership

Speaking from my own observations, I have watched the leaders of peace organisations train, guide and inspire group members. But amongst the most impressive have been those who also on occasion give way to others, or provide chances for others to take up their power, and thus bring on new group members. By doing this they are building skills of their participants, strengthening the group, and modeling the behaviour they wish to promote. Such acts do not go unnoticed, and can further enhance the reputation and respect with which truly inspirational leaders are held.  


I have seen a few groups where this behaviour was being copied by others, so that those emerging as leaders in their own right, facilitated by their superior, were in the habit of facilitating others to come forward and creating the space for them to lead. Such behaviour can yield profound changes in people and groups, by generating great loyalty and commitment among its members. A crowd inspired by such an example is a formidable force for non-violent change.


The first step

None of this counts for much though unless the impetus for the first action is taken. One thing all leaders do have in common is their ability and willingness to take up responsibility, and to begin to exercise power with non-violence.  


As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.’ We hope that the forthcoming tools for peacebuilding practitioners may assist you in that first step, and some of the ones that follow.


Post by Bryn Higgs from The Peacebuilding Practitioner.