The Leadership of the Radical Centre

There’s a great analysis of a recent Noel Pearson essay on Club TroppoNoel Pearson is an advocate for indigenous people in Australia and he has commanded great interest with his recent pronouncements on greater responsibility by the indigenous community to their own future.

His essay contrasts the positions of the extremes and implores the progression of the radical centre.  He investigates the denialists who are defensive of their own identity and heritage and who believe that they should not be made to feel guilty for past behaviours.  There is the other extreme who wish us to be sorry for what has happened, to advocate large-scale social policy interventions and to in-effect, take responsibility for the situation. 

Pearson contends that either of these extremes is wrong and that a radical centre position needs to be adopted, that holds the dialectic between the two extremes in tension and resolves them at the point where pragmatism and idealism meet, not through weak compromise but through strong leadership as “best leadership occurs at the point of highest tension between ideals and reality”.  I think that this is a wonderful understanding of leadership that focuses not just on the notion of transcend-and-include but also on how to implement this on the ground in a meaningful manner.

He suggests that “there are at least ten classic dialectical tensions in human policy: idealism vs realism, rights vs responsibilities, social order vs liberty, individual vs community, efficiency vs equality, structure vs behaviour, opportunity vs choice, unity vs diversity, nature vs man, and peace vs war.”  What a great list!   The focus is not to choose between each of these as that will lead to failure but embrace both and leaning to one or the other at different stages as “a progressive measure at one time can produce regressive results later. Policy must take account of the effluxion of time and the stage of historical development”. 

I co-wrote a paper about 5 years ago with Richard Vines which outlined tensions that need to be overcome from understanding the context of a situation, gathering information and ultimately resulting in a judgement call when a decision has to be made.  We used the term “context management” as the process to define these tensions and identify the most appropriate response for that particular situation. 

Understanding of staged development, cultural contexts and the political milieu is necessary to generate and position the leadership required to transcend and resolve tensions at the juncture between idealism and pragmatism.  Such leadership is indeed, radical!

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