Plato's paradox of leadership

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Book Chapter

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Cox, D., & Crook. P. (2015). Plato's paradox of leadership. In J. Boaks, & M. Levine (Eds.), Leadership and Ethics (pp. 129-150). London, United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Publishing.

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Copyright © Jacqueline Boaks, Michael Levine and contributors, 2015




This is a chapter about political rulers and what we can learn about leadership by examining conditions for good rulership. But what is the relationship between leading and ruling? A leader doesn't just exercise de jure authority over others, she leads others. Leadership is a success concept. To lead is to successfully bring others along with one; to lead is to successfully contrive others' co-operation in pursuit of a set purpose or goal that one has adopted. Of course, this can be done well or badly, through fear or inspiration, in a good cause or a miserable one. We use the term 'rulership' in a parallel way. To rule is to successfully impose one's will upon others in political matters and to do so with authority. A person who occupies a rulership position and fails to impose their will to a signiftcant degree fails to rule. Just as an utterly indecisive leader fails to lead, an utterly indecisive ruler fails to rule. As we use the term, therefore, rulers are political leaders with the power and authority to impose their political will, to a significant degree, on an entire population. All rulers are political leaders, but not all political leaders are rulers. Political figures who lead by example and persuasion alone, for example, do not rule.

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