08 April 2008

LoTf Power Struggle

(2 April 2008) - Lord of the Flies by William Golding is a widely-reviewed, fictional novel on the subject of human behavior. Written in 1954, the story follows the journey of a group of school-age boys as they struggle to develop community amongst themselves following their untimely plane crash onto a desert isle.

Key characters in Lord of the Flies include Ralph, Jack, Simon, Piggy, and to a certain extent the inseparable twins Sam and Eric. Shortly following the crash, as most of the boys are wandering at an attempt to orient themselves to their current situation, Piggy meets Ralph. Piggy--the thinker of the group--does his best to encourage the day-dreamy Ralph to draw himself up and take action. Through the expressive musical note of a conch shell that the pair have discovered together, Ralph initiates the first of what will become many "assemblies" of the deserted children.

At that first meeting, Ralph is voted chief. Effectively, the group of varying-aged boys had just become a unified entity, after which progress could be made. Ralph appoints a 3-person exploration team (including himself) to walk the beach and seek to determine whether their current location was in fact, an island. The other 2 members of the scout team are Jack and the diminutive Simon. Jack--head of the boys'--choir, was somewhat miffed that Ralph won the vote over him for chief, however at that early point recognized that a democratic decision had been made. Simon tended to be a quiet boy, appearing to imagine to see things that others couldn't see. His role later played a significant part in the exposure of raw human behavior at the climax of the story.

As time drags on, Ralph's vision of survival (via keeping a signal fire burning) collides with Jack's pre-occupation with "the hunt" (violently pursuing native pigs) and the group divides into two competing factions. As civilized organization unravels and conflict approaches morbidity, the schoolboys-turned-savage are rescued by the American Hero, a naval officer in stark white dress.

Leadership and politics are often considered simultaneously. There are all sorts of definitions of what it means to be a leader, but they all involve the dynamic of other people--and that means politics. In the political framing of organizational leadership it is necessary to recognize the conditions which create constituent offsidedness in the first place. Often the two elements at the root of conflict are "enduring differences" and the allocation of scarce resources. Such conflictual causes usually call for a positional leader of authority, inherently granting some individual with the intangible resource of Power. With said Power, the leader is expected to harmonize the dissonance of the relative masses and to provide scarce resources where appropriate (or often to those who put leader into the the authority position).

With the possibility of Power there often exists a struggle for leadership. Individuals who see themselves as best fit for the job will market themselves, build coalitions with small groups, and take highly-visible action for show. Political leadership enables a person to set a new direction for an organization, to make his or her own vision that of the public's, and to herald community in the face of diversity. While the Power of organizational leadership is sought by some, there are others who equally desire to be strongly led. This type of interdependency between Leaders and Followers is an important thread of functional organizational life. Power flows multi-directionally in the building and transacting of relationships between key stakeholders; failure to allow for these "power relationships" to exist creates dysfunctional politics and can be a lead into magnificent leadership atrocities.

In Lord of the Flies, the power struggle between Ralph and Jack was present from the time of the very first assembly. Ralph became the de-facto leader mostly by circumstance, although Jack was the more obvious leadership candidate. Jack entered the novel in command of his marching choir, already with dedicated followers. That group of choir boys would essentially remain together for the duration of the story, creating the first "enduring difference." After the group had been together for a few days, further stratification occurred. The younger boys--around the age of 6--began to be referred to as "littleuns" while conversely the older boys were "bigguns." These splits create a divide in the value and beliefs of the group as a whole, begging a leader to manage the politics.

Chief Ralph set his agenda right away (with influence from Piggy) to "act like adults" and live within rules. His followers initially complied with the society rules, including such taskings as carrying drinking water to a central area, utilizing a designating latrine-area, constructing shelters, and building and maintaining an active signal fire. Over a relatively short period of time though, most of the boys became disinterested in this type of behavior and began to deny Ralph their end of the power relationship. The littleuns became distracted from Ralph's course and began investing most of their time swimming, building sand castles, and generally running amuck. While the littleuns were subscribing to such activities, some of the bigguns were participating in their own version of the Hedonic Treadmill, dutifully starting each day as a contributing member of society but then quickly deserting in acts of self-interest. Ralph tried to right the ship by asserting his position as Chief and that others must follow his orders, but his stock did not hold. Jack, as the acknowledged Hunter-in-Charge, was becoming more and more obsessed with his quest for the kill. He was being affected by the "Human Condition" and as time went on, the need to slaughter pigs became more and more immediate. His excitement and growing blood-lust increased the tendencies of the choir boys--over whom he already held Power--to do the same.

When the two extremes of Ralph and Jack's leadership exploded into the event that was the discovery of the "Beast," Jack broke away from the umbrella organization and declared himself Chief of his own tribe. All the hunter-types (mostly the older boys) followed him right away, the littleuns not far behind as Jack began promising fresh roast pig to any in his camp. Jack, with that multi-directional power relationship in place, also had the additional leverage of allocating to his own tribesmen scarce resource of fresh meat. Ralph & sidekick Piggy were out of business---they couldn't compete.

Ralph, Piggy, Simon, and the neutral Sam and Eric attempted to move on in their own direction, however confrontation led to confrontation and Simon and Piggy were both eventually killed at the hands of Jack's savage tribe. The struggle for leadership between Ralph and Jack and the creation of two opposing organizations which could not possibly co-exist grew into tragedy. A brand new civilization on a virgin island began in a semblance of structured organization and all too quickly descended to the urges of Human Nature--the "Beast."


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