On Hierarchy

“For most of human history especially in the hunter-gatherer period of our ancient ancestors, there were no formal hierarchies as people usually lived, ate, and communed in small groups where decisions could be made collectively and were objections or differing opinions were more easily able to be heard.”

Hierarchy is one unavoidable aspect of modern life that can be difficult not to clash with from time to time. The bigger the group is, the more necessary a hierarchy is in order to ensure order and compliance. For most of human history especially in the hunter-gatherer period of our ancient ancestors, there were no formal hierarchies as people usually lived, ate, and communed in small groups where decisions could be made collectively and were objections or differing opinions were more easily able to be heard.

If you have a group of 10 or even up to 100, which is what human beings are able to hold in their memories in terms of remembering names, faces, and details about each person, such small-scale organization did not have a need for a strict hierarchy where one person was in charge of making all of the decisions or whose voice mattered more than others. On the contrary, consensus involved discussion, debate, and a common conclusion at the end of the meeting or congregation. If enough people did not agree with the decisions or the direction of the group, they would often create their own group and go their own way.

These small groups dominated for a long time in human history, but their longevity in terms of collective group decision-making was upended by the agricultural age and when people stopped roaming around the planet. Instead of being hunter-gatherers, the majority of humanity shifted to being settlers and farmers establishing larger and larger groups to form a collective society or nation where you would not know everyone in your group because that group was no longer autonomous. Agrarian, industrial, and post-industrial societies are made up of thousands or millions of people usually brought together under one flag, one state, or one nation.

While this civilizational approach has outlasted our ancient past as hunter-gatherers, our inherent need to be part of a group, to be valued, and to have purpose within that group has not gone away. These small groups had a measure of equality to them with everyone having a key purpose and having a voice regarding what issues or opportunities had come up. In a larger society, cooperation is harder to come by, inequalities can be maximized, and hierarchies are much more common due to the need to instill order and discipline among people of that society even when they feel like they are being disadvantaged in some way.

Hierarchies are not necessarily natural to us as human beings given our origins and our way of life that lasted for thousands of years but to me and others, it was a necessity in order to organize a large-scale society of thousands or millions of people. Hierarchy is not necessarily a bad system, but it can be abused by those who have power who are not held accountable for their actions or who cannot be removed from their leadership role if they do not serve the society’s interests and needs. The fight for democratic governance, for basic human rights, and for equal opportunities in a society; those values are not guaranteed especially when we organize around a hierarchy and give people power over others.

Whether it is the President of a country or the CEO of a company, a hierarchy has to be kept in check and when that leader or ruler is not making wise decisions for the people he serves in that role, there has to be a way to remove someone from that role in the hierarchy. While hierarchies are necessary in our modern world, there have to be ways for those who are subordinate to voice themselves and their views without fears of reprisal or retribution for speaking out.

To ‘speak truth to power’ throughout history has been the exception rather than the norm but for those who did it even when there were financial or personal risks involved, the larger society benefited from the actions of those people who did not remain silenced but spoke out. If a leader is committing injustices, if a manager is doing something illegal, or if a principal is abusing their power, they have to be held accountable and removed from their position especially the higher up in the overall hierarchy that they are placed.

By raising our collective voices, abuses, inequalities, and injustices can be minimized as much as possible if there are democratic safeguards created to prevent a hierarchical order from being abused. There will be those leaders who do right by their subordinates and who make their hierarchy more democratic but in case that does not occur, laws and institutions have to be able to hold those at the top of their hierarchies in check.

Whether it’s’ allowing a few of your employees at a company to have voting rights on the company’s board of directors or making them shareholders or part-owners of the company, these are a few ways to make hierarchies more responsive and fairer. By establishing term limits for those who run for public office and prevent them from being in that office for the rest of their lives so that they aren’t able to have power for thirty or forty years straight is another concrete way to control a hierarchy by allowing others to take charge. When a President or Prime Minister does something illegal or cruel, that hierarchy is not absolute, and they can be removed from office or even be charged with a crime so that people in the society will know that they are not above the law.

It’s not that hierarchies are inherently bad or negative, but they must be actively controlled and made more democratic by those who participate in them. The people who are subordinate to others within a hierarchy should be able to freely voice their opinion, concerns, or dissent when they disagree with their leader. A good leader should take into consideration those stakeholders or constituents who they are responsible for governing over and they should not prevent people from expressing their dismay or disappointment because a good leader will admit when they make a mistake and try to do better for the people under him or her.

The notion of a hierarchy having been around for all of human history is a fallacy and while it is not an ideal way to form a group with one person having power over others by claiming it, it is the only way to organize large-scale societies and nations. However, hierarchies that are successful are responsible to the needs of the people living in them, who want to voice their opinion without fear of reprisal for having done so, and to be able to vote, change, or amend the leadership from time to time so that the hierarchy does not become above the people but rather part of them in a democratic system.

While hierarchy has to be respected, it should not be absolute, and it must be as democratic as possible. A hierarchy that is unequal, unresponsive, and meant to be permanent will ultimately fail because that kind of hierarchy will lose favor with the people under it and will eventually be replaced with something better. If you find yourself under a hierarchical system that you find stifling and demeaning, don’t stick around and support it. Find your own group or place in the world where you can have a voice that is listened to, where decisions can be made as a small group if possible, and where an absolute hierarchy is unheard of and frowned upon.

The Need to Have a Social Conscience

Keeping with what’s been going on in the world lately, I believe it’s important to reinforce just how important it is now and into the future the need to have a social conscience. What do I mean by a social conscience? Boiling down the formal definition to even simpler terms, it is the feeling derived from caring for others more than yourself. You feel the urge to put others’ needs before your own. It does not mean to stop caring for yourself and taking care of your daily needs but to think of others who rely on you and to put them first especially for family members and friends.

However, having a social conscience goes beyond just our family and our friends. It goes for our immediate society as a whole whether it is the community you live in, the nation you reside in, or the world you inhabit. You feel responsible for what goes on outside of your own life and those of family and friends to think of a larger picture. To have a social conscience is to see beyond your own problems and to see the injustices that continue to plague our world.

You also have to realize that your problems while difficult or not unique and others are going through the same tribulations as you are and sometimes worse. Having a social conscience involves putting yourselves into the shoes of other people and to realize how they could possibly be helped and how you personally can be involved in assisting them. Showing concern for others is the right way to have a social conscience and also to think about how these injustices can be resolved. Any individual can make a difference by having a social conscience and by taking it upon themselves to change their behavior to reflect their new attitude.

How do you show your social conscience? There are numerous ways to do so and you could even put them on a scale from small actions to large movements designed to change the foundations of the society. In the case of a social conscience, I find that it’s like exercising your body. You don’t want to take on too much weight or distance at first for weightlifting or running. You should rather want to start small and build up your actions over time and to be more ambitious.

For some examples, starting off small with your social conscience can include environmental stewardship, collecting donations, or getting involved in your local community. Any of these actions can create a ripple effect and can cause a shift in societal behavior for others to follow your lead or for the actions to spread to other people and even communities based on how consistent and courteous you are with these goodwill efforts. For environmental stewardship, it could be recycling your own bottles and cans each day and getting your neighborhood to do so as well.

You can also plant trees and install solar panels on your house if able to gather momentum from smaller actions. Donating your own clothes or extra food can lead to organizing food drives or even creating your own organizations to help collect donations in your town or city. Leading a local trash pickup event can lead to other future leadership roles for yourself such as running for your child’s PTA (parent – teacher association) board to running for the town / city council board seat. Social consciousness does not have to encompass all of humanity but rather as the popular saying goes, “think globally, act locally.”

As long as you are having a positive impact on the life of another person, you are exercising your social consciousness. The more you do it, the more natural it is, and it becomes your routine or habit. Your first time donating your old clothes to the Salvation Army becomes a monthly habit. Your first-time volunteering at the local food bank becomes a weekly occurrence. Helping others feels good and it can lead to you doing it more often so why not give it a try? A social consciousness does not have to extend to everybody in the world all at once but the actions you do locally can definitely ripple out and stand as a positive example for others to implement in their own communities.

If you would like to get involved globally, there are an almost infinite number of opportunities to study, teach, work, and volunteer in non-governmental organizations and local non-for-profits in important areas such as education, health care, infrastructure and the environment. Spending time to educate yourself on the culture, history, politics, and the society of other places around the world will help better inform you of the injustices and problems of your own. No human society is perfect but there are small improvements that each day we can choose to perform to make it a little bit better than it was before.

Even when you are not in a position of local, national, or even global leadership, you can elect to pay attention to the problems that must be solved, form your position on the issues by being educated and choosing your sources of information carefully and then choose to vote and elect those leaders who have a social conscience. You will know if they have one or not by not only of what they advocate for but how they have advocated for these issues and who they have surrounded themselves with. A person with no social conscience cares for no one but himself and his own brood. Their friends are disposable to them and they care nothing for others beyond what they can do for him or her and how their own prospects can be improved. A person without a social conscience deserves to lead nobody and not be followed by anyone.

A socially conscious leader cares for the least among them and feels their pain as his or her own. While they have not experienced pain or misery as those whom he or she advocates for, he can listen to them, see what they say based on those experiences, and come to an educated decision on how to best fix the problem and work with those who are experts in that field to solve the issue as best as humanly possible. Social conscious behavior is so key to have when it comes to be a leader of a community or a nation and it is unfortunately neglected as of late when it comes to judging the men and the women we put into positions of influence and power.

As long as people err in their own behavior and judgment, there will be manmade problems and injustices. What someone with a social conscience can do is to do their best to continue to fight for justice and solve those problems in any way they can. Rather than focus on 100 problems at one time, it is best to focus one’s attention at 1 or 2 big problems that can be solved in time and that can gain popular support from the community after receiving the facts of why and how the injustice exists. Keep educating yourself on the injustices and the problems that exist in your world and decide how you want to push our world back towards the ‘arc of justice’ that our conscience and actions should bend to as Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently put it. We only have a finite amount of time on this planet and if we can right some wrongs and create justice where there was little or none before then we are doing our small part to make this world a better and fairer place.

A Profile in Courage – Marshal Candido Rondon

Who is Candido Rondon? It is likely you have never learned about this Brazilian figure of history, but he was not only an exemplary Brazilian, but he was also an extraordinary explorer, friend to indigenous peoples, soldier, statesman, and traveler. Achieving the highest rank in the Brazilian military, he devoted himself to the service of his nation in the twilight of empire and the forging of a new republic. While not a politician nor a man hungry for power, he was a man of great courage, fortitude, and moral fiber. He put others before himself and never wanted to be immersed in the modern wants for fame or fortune as others greedily claim for themselves in the modern era.

While a military officer first, he was a famous explorer who cared about the environment and did his best to balance that with his desire for progressive development of connecting a new nation together through telegraph lines as director of the official commission. He not only cared about the environment but also sought for the protection of indigenous peoples who he encountered during his explorations and made sure that all of his interactions with them were both peaceful and friendly.

He did many incredible things in his life but as far as what I have learned about him; he was never a big braggart who boasted incessantly and who was much more concerned with how his men were doing whether they were his fellow soldiers, explorers, or countrymen. He was very successful because he set a powerful example and took care to accomplish whatever he took upon himself to the best of his abilities. From being a director for the protection of indigenous peoples to setting up telegraph lines as a commissioner to commanding fellow troops to explore the unknown regions of the Amazon, Rondon was a man who was the epitome of a ‘profile in courage.’

Marshal Rondon was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has various catastrophes and tragedies befall him as a child. His father died before he was born, and his mother died when he was only two years old. His grandparents died when he was a boy, so he was cared for by his uncle. Rondon was a victim of discrimination for his indigenous origin and was bullied because of it. He was not tall or very strong physically either.

However, none of these setbacks stopped him because nothing would stop a man who was courageous, determined, and a hard worker. Most of all, it should be said that rather than let these personal tragedies derail him and his life goals, it is likely that they spurred him on to achieve great things and to make the most of the time that was given to him with more awareness of the preciousness of life and how quickly it can be taken away.

Marshal Candido Rondon has great discipline and determination especially when it came to his education as a teenager and as a young adult. He studied both Mathematics and Physical and Natural Sciences at the War College in Rio de Janeiro. He became second lieutenant of the Armed Forces of Brazil in 1888. He was directly involved as a military officer in the formation of the Brazilian Republic after the fall of the Brazilian Empire. In addition to all of these academic pursuits, he self-taught himself various skills especially engineering. He also became physically disciplined allowing him to spend months and years in the harsh tropical climate due to his time spent in the military and military school.

Rondon was instrumental in connecting the Amazonian region of Brazil to the rest of the country. As an Army engineer, he was in charge of expanding the reach of the new republic and removing the isolation that this part of Brazil had become accustomed to. He built the first telegraph line that crossed the state of Mato Grosso. With his leadership, construction began on a main road from Cuiabá to Rio de Janeiro (The Capital of Brazil at the time). Telegraph lines were also established from Brazil to Bolivia and Peru. He maintained peace both with the indigenous tribes and Brazil’s neighbors during his time as the Telegraph Commissioner.

You could argue today that Marshal Rondon was the closest to being thought of as a Pacifist that a military officer could be. He always tried to make friends with the indigenous tribes of Brazil especially. He never ordered his men to shoot the Indians, even when they were being attacked by them sometimes by poisonous arrows.

Because of Rondon’s beliefs in Positivism and positivist thought, he wanted to make the indigenous tribes civilized and connected to the rest of Brazil in a non-violent and gradual way. For his actions, he later on in life became the first director of the Indian Protection Service (SPI), which still exists in Brazil today under a different name of FUNAI (National Indian Foundation).

After 1888, Marshal Candido Rondon became a member of the positivist church in Brazil, which was based on humanist ideals. Heavily influenced by the Brazilian thinker, Benjamin Constant, the Brazilian military and its new republic helped to spread the ideals of positivism within Brazil. Mr. Constant was influenced by the French enlightenment philosopher, Auguste Comte. Positivism as an ideology emphasizes naturalism, science and altruism, rather than any religious doctrine in particular. Marshal Rondon was influenced by positivism in his actions with regards to supporting the telegraph expansion and by his pursuit of co-existence and eventual friendship with the Indigenous populations. The positivism movement and the spread of Republican beliefs among Brazil’s military and political leaders helped in a major way in changing Brazil from an empire to a republic.

What most people outside of Brazil, especially Americans such as myself who are fond of history would only know about Candido Rondon, would revolve around his historic journey of discovery and exploration with then ex-U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in 1913-1914. The Roosevelt – Rondon scientific expedition was a research expedition between 1913 and 1914 to follow the path of the River of Doubt (Rio da Duvida) in the Amazon. Because of sheer physical dexterity and encyclopedic knowledge of the Amazon, Rondon, miraculously, was the only man who came back healthy. The ex-President, Theodore Roosevelt almost died of illness and it could be said that Rondon helped save his life and that of his son, Kermit too.

Three of the Brazilians died during the expedition sadly. Without Rondon and the local experience and knowledge of his men, the expedition would have been a disaster. Historically, this was also an important moment to solidify good relations between the two countries which were both far away in terms of language and cultural connections at the time. The ‘River of Doubt’ was renamed the Roosevelt River (Rio Roosevelt) in honor of the former American president for completing the journey which would not have been successful without the assistance and perseverance of Marshal Rondon. There are times in a man’s life where you can state how his leadership was instrumental to the success of a group and in this expedition, Rondon’s leadership was unquestionably the reason why it succeeded and why it is remembered so fondly today.

Few Brazilians have made as great of an impact on their country as Marshal Candido Rondon. The Indian Protection Service (SPI) had its problems, but it became FUNAI, which still helps indigenous peoples today throughout the country. The new Brazilian republic grew both more connected and stronger due to the telegraph and road construction commissions which were led by Rondon and his men. Rondônia is now a Brazilian state composed of the Amazon Forest that is named after the Marshal. His military service, his care for the Indians, and his positivist beliefs are still remembered by many Brazilians today. Marshal Candido Rondon died at the advanced age of 92 in 1958, in Rio de Janeiro, the capital of a country for which he did so much and honored so very proudly.

On Leadership

There are a number of keys and steps that it takes to become a good leader. There are also many interpretations of what a good leader can be, but I believe there is also a specific formula of characteristics, habits, and traits that separate the good leaders from the bad ones. It is extremely useful nowadays to go over the themes and the values that often make up the blueprint of a good leader whether you are referring to a business executive or to a prime minister. I particularly rely upon using books and other reference materials for further analysis, which help to highlight the importance of leadership when operating under difficult circumstances.

Especially when it comes to working within an adaptive leadership framework, you have to be able to address different challenges and crises that arise which may cause you to adapt your leadership style to fit the times. In order to meet these challenges, a leader has to be open to new ideas, be able to self-reflect, and stay true to the overall vision or goals at hand even when obstacles are thrown in the way.

Each modern and historical leadership figure that you can think of was an adaptive leader since they were not following a specific script or manual and had to sometimes improvise or change their beliefs or views when the time came for it. Still though, these leaders had a steadfast vision, were good communicators, and had the trust of their constituents and colleagues to carry out the work they were doing even under high pressure situations.

The most useful example for me of displaying adaptive leadership in action was the movie “Invictus”. That movie portrays an excellent example set by the former President of South Africa and human rights icon Nelson Mandela as an adaptive leader. He did not let his past experiences of being jailed unjustly in Robben Island cloud his ability to forgive and bring his country together to fight for a better future. He was open to compromise, dialogue, and reconciliation to heal a very divided country.

I think that even if we do not consider ourselves to be a natural leader, it would do us a lot of good to put ourselves in other leaders’ shoes to decide how we would act if we had been the leader in those situations. I believe it would be very beneficial for anyone to do role playing scenarios, either historical or modern-day ones, where someone is forced to put our leadership abilities to the test and see how they would do when evaluated by counterparts or colleagues.

Being a principled leader takes time but can be rather straightforward when you really think about it. Anyone can have principles that they stand for but that does not necessarily make a good leader. There are other qualities that make a good leader which involves having a deep sense of who they are including their strengths, weaknesses, and how they can tell their story. Even if a leader has principles, they may not be morally sound or ethically fashionable, which is what someone can conclude when you consider the actions of controversial leaders such as U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

When you contrast these principled yet morally compromised modern leaders with positives historical examples of real leadership from the likes of President John F. Kennedy or Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, you can get a better sense of how a leader can be principled in their decision-making but still a bad leader in terms of reputation. The Kennedy brothers still had principles, but they were based in sound morals and humane values as well as an ability to reach out for advice and counsel before making an important decision. They were decisive but not arrogant. Both men would be considered well-versed in exercising what is known as emotional intelligence. Under immense pressure, they were able to not let their ego or personal feelings get in the way of making a fateful executive decision that prevented World War III.

I have learned through my own life experience and by reading about other people that a leader must be able to put him or herself in difficult situations where their ability to exercise leadership will be tested. Being able to open yourself up to risk, setbacks, and failure can help to mold a true leader as overcoming adversity has helped many people in the past to rise up to take charge when their community, their country or the world needed them.

You do not need a stirring personal narrative to be a good leader, but it does help you build a strong connection with others. Sharing your story and connecting that story to the larger society is a very powerful tool that can make you stand out as a leader. I believe that a leader should always aim to be authentic when they connect with other people and to see themselves as not the center of attention but a small part of a larger story. To be transformational and a servant of the people, you have to put your ego aside. Those leaders who are the most developed as individuals are those who know themselves well.

A leader must not only be successful in leading himself or herself but also in successfully leading a team to achieve goals and in working together collaboratively. In order to lead a team, every member must be open and honest with each other. Accountability is a key aspect of being a team leader both to themselves and the rest of the group in order to be a more cohesive force.

While the leader has to hold the team members accountable for how they work and what they do, the leader must expect that the team members can also hold their leader fully accountable in response. Each member of the team must live up to the duties expected of them because if just one of the team members isn’t pulling their weight, then everyone on the team will suffer as a result. A true leader will not let the weight of the powers and responsibilities given to them let it go to their head. True leaders must be humble as well as selfless in how they set the example for the rest of the team or organization that they are in charge of.

In a group setting, each member of the team including the leader must be willing to have difficult conversations and point out both the positives and negatives that are ongoing within the team. Sometimes, I believe it is best to pull a team member aside to have a private conversation if the matter is really serious but if it is a consistent yet small error that is hampering progress, then that should be brought up in the team meeting. However, it’s best for the leader or any members to gossip or talk negatively about someone in a passive-aggressive manner.

I, myself, am wary of a hierarchical structure when it comes to leading teams. It creates an unhealthy dynamic where the team leader may not be accountable to anyone in the group but himself or herself. They may be able to critique their team members flaws without any fear, but the team members would not be able to do the same to the leader. The hierarchical system of leadership should be considered imperfect in its nature and I think it’s best to consider a more collaborative approach to the concept of leadership where the team or group take turns becoming the leader at different intervals in order to better understand what it’s like to lead the group rather than just stay on the sidelines and carry out orders from above.

As a leader, you should be willing to bring together qualified people of different skill sets and capabilities together in the hopes of achieving a common goal that you have set for your team. There is an inherent importance of being open with your teammates as well as a willingness to accept your own boundaries within the team or organization. In order to be an effective leader, one must realize their own limits within their given expertise and skillset. A good leader will not try to do everything or infringe upon the necessary work of other team members. Building a true sense of collaboration and cohesiveness instead of competition and infringement is key in order to achieve the goals and objectives you set as a leader.

Being vulnerable with your team members is a key part of being an effective leader. However, there’s a balance that you have to have as a leader. You should be open to having difficult yet necessary discussions with all team members, a few of them, or just one-on-one if the discussion is extremely sensitive. I believe it’s best to be open and honest with your team members rather than closed off and withdrawn. You should act with transparency when it comes to your decision-making process and the actions that the team as a whole should implement. It’s also necessary to not sweep things under the rug and let a small issue become a big one. A leader should also admit his or her own shortcomings, which will let others in the team be more comfortable around you in expressing their flaws as well.

When constructive criticism is warranted both for the leader and team members, it should be discussed. Before criticizing, I think it’s important to follow the rule of saying one or two nice things about the work the team is doing before discussing what should be improved upon. Any kind of critical feedback should be preempted by a positive remark that would soften the blow of a negative comment that could be taken the wrong way. A true leader will let himself hear open feedback from the team he or she is leading and implement those changes to improve the results of the team. Also, it’s the most important job of a leader to delegate responsibilities and tasks well enough so they are not responsible for too much or find themselves to be too prideful to bring on new team members.

Lastly, I think another distinct priority of a leader should be to always actively look for the most qualified people and bring them onboard. Having the diversity of background and of opinion can build a strong team but you must also have a variety of opinions available to you so as to avoid groupthink within the ranks. A leader should be aware of their strengths and weaknesses at all times and be humble enough to fill in the gaps with wise counsel, strategy through the addition of others who compliment his or her area of expertise. Any leader can only go so far in life and in work by themselves, but it is the team, the organization, the army, or the people that the leader builds who can help that leader build their legacy in the history books for their good governance and fair decision-making.