In order to improve leaders’ value systems, we need to regain the values of agrarian society. Leadership expert Vana Prewitt argues that the current leadership theories are based on modernist assumptions and are out of date with leading today’s postmodern organizations. Given this dilemma, I advocate for a different kind of 21st leadership.
Agrarian leadership is defined as a contextual influence that has an impact on subordinates’ attitudes and performance by leaders who are both value and results driven. Agrarian leaders view their followers as critical parts of the socio-technical system. Therefore, technology does not drive the value system of society.
Before the Industrial Revolution, life was centered on land and labor. Life was simple for the leader in agrarian society. Rural living revolved around the land; owning it was equivalent to self-sufficiency and liberty. Although Americans lived in a tribal structure prior to the Agrarian Era (1650-1849), farming communities operated in a decentralized economy.
Agrarians exercised a strong spirituality and a deep respect for the environment. There was a genuine concern for neighbors and co-workers. Being a leader was a major responsibility. In fact, farmers were like heroes because of their hard work, contributions to society, independence, and moral standards. A man’s word meant something. With the transition from an agrarian to industrial society, untainted leadership was lost.
The Industry Revolution meant major changes to the American way of life. Before that period, over 90% of Americans lived rurally. Farmers influenced society. Between 1870 and1900, rural areas doubled and urban areas tripled. Farmers were cautious about these societal changes.
Industrial managers faced challenges such as generating new efficiencies while expanding operations. Chaos theory was in effect because those managers couldn’t control these organizational changes (both inside and outside). Factory managers lacked a process to motivate the unskilled (former agrarian) workforce. This era created new advances and new problems.
The Industrial Revolution forever changed agrarian society, primarily due to market economy and technology. Farmers were less self-sufficient and became “economic market” slaves. This created conflict because farmers and industrial society had different values. Farming became more productive, but fewer farmers were needed.
As a result of these advances, farmers lost their independence, family focus, and societal influence on moral conduct. For example, some managers found factory workers breaking equipment. Consequently, managers tried to institute positive and negative rewards; these managers used conventional wisdom: “the hungriest man makes the best worker.” Once again, mankind was moving away from his calling—the land.
Therefore, advances in technology do not always equate to a better society. Many techno advocates would argue that technology has provided superior virtues. I beg to differ. First, technology doesn’t automatically improve society. In over 50 years, America has gone from rural to city and from national to international markets. Richard Critchfield, author of Trees, Why Do You Wait: America’s Changing Rural Culture, argues that these advancements have weakened our core values such as family tradition and work ethic.
Secondly, the disintegration of the agrarian code has destroyed our moral stability. Osha Davidson, author of Broken Heartlands, suggests that technology and the economic prestige of the agricultural system brought a host of social ills such as poverty, depopulation, and soil erosion.
Finally, we may consider agrarian lifestyle primitive. However, agrarian values shouldn’t be forgotten as good leadership attributes. We continue to advance technology by leaps and bounds while the values of society continue to disintegrate with each innovation. In society, many leaders exhibit unethical conduct, pursuing wealth. Throughout American history, we see the consequences.
Do you feel that agrarian leadership is a term that will fit in the Green Economy? Can today’s leaders acquire, develop, or revitalize agrarian values in their leaders in the 21st century? If so, how?
© 2010 by Daryl D. Green