Inclusion · Leadership · Philosophy

Herzog’s Aguirre: Lessons Learned for Transformational Leadership in Inclusion

Last night, I had the delight of watching Herzog’s Aguirre again. However this time, rather than simply following Kinski’s wonderful portrayal of the errant Spanish Conquistador on a doomed search for El Dorado, I listened to Werner Herzog’s commentary. The anecdotes of how he threatened to shoot his leading man if he didn’t return to set, and how he seized 800 monkeys from a flight bound to Califronia for the final scene on the raft, showed a level of dedication to his artistic endeavors that was inspiring. However what struck me most was how every person in the film, every extra, Herzog knew personally and had a funny quip to tell. Maybe this is the inevitable result of filming in the Peruvian jungle with a limited cast, but I couldn’t help wondering if it was more to do with the style of Leadership Herzog employed, and how different it was from that seen from Aguirre.

The opening scenes when the conquistadors are crossing a series of rapids is perilous and breath-taking, not least so as one of the rafts genuinely sunk and they could only ever do one take due to the danger. Yet what was inspiring was how the crews remained calm and poised throughout (whilst wearing the original conquistador armour). Herzog claimed that this was a result of himself both being on a raft, and having crossed first to show the safety/possibility of making the crossing. This concern for his crew stands in sharp contrast to his character Aguirre, who repeatedly allows his band of loyal rebels to get shot or killed so he can go a little further down the river, and down into the depths of his own madness.

I was taken back to that 1970/80s concept of ‘transformational leadership’, that seemed to be so in vogue in the early 21st century but has been diluted in the literature of late. To borrow form the original idea of Burns, it was to conceive of all leadership as a dichotomy between transactional forms, and a superior transformational forms, with subsequent literature steeply backing both the existence of the distinction and the over-whelming benefits of transformational leadership as a style. Transactional leadership was to be the act of pacifying basic human needs through the exchange of money and time for labour. The pursuit of the money as the alleviating factor for want becomes the driving factor. Now, this basic idea has it’s roots in the early motivational theories of Maslow, and as early as Maslow was writing, Herzberg was providing fairly concrete evidence that money is not a motivating factor. The real KITA factors are more idealogical – focusing around intrinsic factors like recognition and moralistic integrity. I’m always inspired by colleagues who work seemingly endless hours, never for the money but always for the benefit of the students, or for their professional integrity.

This is where the concept of Transformational Leadership comes in. Here leadership ceases to be a blind obedience in exchange for pay, yet what it becomes filled many annuals of research literature for decades. If we take its embryonic form in the smeinal works of Burns, it was conceived not just as being a charisma-driven systems focussed transformation for the monetary and competitive success of the organisation (as it is so frequently seen as now). It was to be like Herzog, and to have a genuine care for those around your self. It was to be authentic, and to provide coaching and support (which actually is in vogue in contemporary leadership workshops that show up on my twitter feed), it is to allow followers choice and accountability, but most of all he conceived of an ethical dimension to the leadership. In a very Kantian sense, there is an ethical sphere which goes beyond the pecuniary, and there becomes a moral imperative for the work that is to be completed.

This is the real distinction between Herzog and his monster. Whereas the Director loved his crew, his protagonist loved no-one that was not a reflection of his own desires, and in the final scene where we have Aguirre standing on the raft, the slave cowering among the dead bodies, and the monkeys running surrealistically around the corpse of Aguirre’s beloved daughter, we see Aguirre pronounce himself as the Wrath of God as the camera circles the raft to show the endless relationship between madness and power. There was no ethical dimension in Aguirre’s pursuit of El Dorado, killing his Lord and allowing his crew to be shot or starved – yet in Herzog’s tender care of his cast there certainly was an ethical dimension.

In education, it is possible to begin to see the process as a transactional one. Money is paid monthly, in most cases irrespective of the quality of the labour, and in that sense if money is the pursuit of work, then a transactional leader can accomplish their goals simply through exchanging money for skilled professional’s time. We see this model in many international schools in tax-free countries, where teachers stay for the minimum time on their contract before moving to a school in a different country. Yet education, and Inclusion in particular, can so easily be driven by transformational leadership. Herzberg, Burns, and Bass all went out of their way to stress that intrinsic motivation where their is a pursuit towards the goals for ethical reasons is far more powerful than extrinsic or transactional leadership. The leader of Inclusion, and education in general, needs to stress that every decision and action taken by every team member is done because it is the right thing to do for marginalised students. Whatever the sacrifice, it’s clear that transformational leadership comes from within.

 

 

 

 

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