Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Robin Hood vs MS-13

While doing this weeks reading about morality in leadership I kept thinking about gang structure. To remain as organized and widespread as many gangs today are there must be some kind of strong structure and direction within them, whether you would refer to this as “leadership” or not. To make this less of a black and white, right and wrong issue I decided to take an example that would be easier for us to examine with some distance.

We all know the story of Robin Hood and his gang, steal from the rich and give to the poor. He and his “merry band” traversed Nottingham Forest redistributing the land’s wealth. Imagine Robin Hood and his gang as a modern day organization. In many respects, Robin Hood made an ideal leader; he constructed a gang where each member had the same goal, he never gave an order his followers would not be willing to follow (Barnard, 1938, pp. 167), and he was able to empathize with his followers’ situations (Choi, 2006). Despite all of this, he legally had no right to do what he did. He led his men to commit crimes.

In Nottingham, for most people, Robin Hood’s behavior was seen as a good thing. Barnard (pp. 260) credits society with having a major role to play in designating what behavior is acceptable and what is not. The citizens were profiting from the theft and, therefore, did their part to legitimize the activity. Cadbury (1986, pp. 72) says that the primary purpose of a company is to satisfy the needs of its customers. One could easily argue that in redistributing the monies Robin Hood was indeed meeting needs that were vital to the survival of his people.

Presumably, because there was some “light” to be found in Robin Hood’s direction no one questions his status as a “leader.” He is seen as a great organizer, triumphing over the hurdles placed in front of him at each turn.

So, now I would like to bring this back to gangs of today. Many gangs actually do perform some type of “public service” whether it is policing their own neighborhoods when the legal authorities fail or simply providing lost children with a form of “familial” support. Is it because modern gang leaders may direct their leaders to kill they cannot be accepted in the way Robin Hood is? Does the relative harmlessness of theft in comparison to murder make it okay? We cannot accept leadership that kills but leadership that steals from the wealthy is okay?

What is it that makes us remember Robin Hood as such a great leader? Do we accept that, in some instances, the greater good is more important than the law if it is ultimately “moral” in society’s understanding of the term? If a leader is running an organization that is somehow benefiting society but going about it in a way that is not quite legal can we overlook the infraction to continue reaping the rewards?

(Image from bbc.co.uk)


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  2. Coming from an admissions background, interestingly enough the link to leadership in gangs actually came up recently at a conference I attended on the future processes of undergraduate admissions. The example that they used was of someone who had been in a gang, exhibiting untraditional leadership experience and being able to gain admissions by writing about their experience. This may have been an extreme example used in the admissions setting, but it certainly got the room talking about what your institution would do if faced with an applicant like that.

    I thought of Milgrim’s article, “The Dilemma of Obedience”, which outlines the cost of obedience and maybe more importantly breaking from authority. In the case of a gang, wherein a group becomes responsible for an act the quote from Milgram would apply. “The person who assumes full responsibility for the act has evaporated” (11). The gang makes obedience a central tenant of the group and in a gang, I would assume you would have to obey to be an effective follower.

  3. I think that this ties in really well with the theme of this week's readings, the idea of moral behavior. It brings me the rationalizations for a behavior, and namely the rationalization that the end justifies the means. I do think that morality is a very personal thing and that there are varying degrees. I don't know if morality is a trait of a good leader or if the act of being moral in certain situations is enough. Robin Hood resonates with people as someone who is trying to help others and to equalize the playing field of all people. I'm not sure if Robin Hood is being a responible leader but he did serve as role model for the poor people he tried to help. Do you think that the people Robin Hood helped are acting morally or if they view him as a leader to emulate?


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