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Literature and management (1). Leaders also fail 'THE LORD OF THE MOSCAS' William Golding's novel raises organizational issues.


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Alejandro Martínez Carrasco

Degree professor at Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)

After landing accidentally, a group group of English children between 6 and 12 years old find themselves alone on a deserted island. Everything looks quite promising: they are on a tropical island paradise surrounded by a coral reef, with a natural lagoon where they can swim safely, wide beaches, fresh water, plenty of food, a warm climate, no dangerous animals, and no adults to impose boring tasks or tell them what to do. In addition, it is a group of good Education and civilized children. Shortly after arriving, two of the older children meet and go to the lagoon to swim happily. There they discover a beautiful seashell, which one of them, named Ralph, blows hard. The rest of the children follow his call and gather around him. The last group of the children to arrive are the members of a school choir, led by their leader, Jack, a strong and dominant boy the same age as Ralph. After becoming position of the status in which they find themselves, they decide to establish democratic and orderly procedures for deliberation and decision making, agree on basic rules for social organization and elect a leader. By acclamation they elect Ralph, the boy who had called them with that almost magical object that gave him a special aura, the conch shell, as their leader. Seeing the disappointment of Jack, who wished to be elected chief, and the ascendancy he has over his fellow choir members, Ralph decides to share authority and give him and his group the important and exciting task of hunting for meat. After firmly establishing the foundations of the community that has just been born on the island, the different groups engage in playing, bathing and exploring the island, in an atmosphere of joy, carefree and friendship.

So begins Lord of the Flies, a novel published in 1954 by William Golding, future award Nobel Prize for literature. A group of children creating a new human society in an environment that looks a lot like Paradise. And in this new birth of society everyone feels the need for a leader, although they do not quite know why, and undoubtedly make the best possible choice in the figure of Ralph. But this initial idyllic status soon begins to get complicated and, despite Ralph's efforts, degenerates into a hell of violence.

Why do good leaders also fail? We tend to think that those who do things well always succeed, but reality often belies such expectations. The dismay that this experience causes us is reflected in Ralph, an apparently exemplary leader. He is a level-headed young man, serene, good looking, a good conversationalist, with character and boldness when he sees the need to reinforce his authority. He is very clear about the important objectives, to generate the greatest possible welfare on the island and to be rescued, and the means to achieve them, to cooperate among all to get food, build shelters, avoid conflicts and keep a bonfire on the island so that the smoke attracts ships passing nearby; objectives and means that certainly seem right and realistic, and he remembers again and again. He is also empathetic, enjoys friendship and fun, cares for the little ones, trusts others and distributes responsibility, as he does with Jack after his election, but without wriggling and working together with the others, and even when the others give up, going ahead. And he also takes advice and recognizes other people's reasons, as he does with a fat, asthmatic boy who everyone derogatorily calls Piggy. On top of that, they have been able to create a community with democratic and rational dynamics that in principle seem effective in maintaining unity and fostering free cooperation and manager among all.

But in spite of everything, he fails painfully. Why? Largely because he encounters a reality that he is unable to control: difficult circumstances, because most of group is made up of very young children who are uncontrollable; the weakness of man, who is easily infected by irrational fears and a desperate sense of helplessness; and the seed of evil that nests inside everyone, which tends to provoke rivalry, struggles for dominance, hatred, cruelty and violence.

According to the author of the novel himself, Ralph's main mistake, what ultimately makes him a bad leader, is his naiveté, his failure to recognize that evil that can grow in every man, his overconfidence in human nature. And it is true that experience is very important for a good leader to know how to navigate in difficult circumstances. But if Ralph had been perfectly aware of this, should he have acted differently? Should he perhaps have distrusted others, not shared responsibilities, punished more or instilled more fear? Or not remembered what they had to do to survive and be rescued, even though that was not as exciting and palatable as other occupations?

Human groups are very complicated and there are no mechanisms that eliminate conflicts or solve problems automatically. One of the lessons of this novel is that when a group fails, it is not always due to the leader's mistakes. Leadership is not an infallible technique because human beings are not that simple. Of course one can be a better or worse leader, and it is necessary to learn. But not everything is in our hands, we must always take into account the fragility and limitations of human beings. Not accepting that reality is more complex and unpredictable than our idealistic illusions and thinking that only success is acceptable easily leads to frustration, while accepting the possibility of failure in spite of everything allows a realistic and humane idea of leadership, more apt to become position of the difficulties and to overcome the negative experiences that inevitably arise.