Leadership in an Egalitarian Society

Leadership is instrumental to resolution of collective action dilemmas, particularly in large, heterogeneous groups. Less is known about the characteristics or effectiveness of leadership in small-scale, homogeneous, and relatively egalitarian societies, in which humans have spent most of our existence. Among Tsimane’ forager-horticulturalists of Bolivia, we (1) assess traits of elected leaders under experimental and naturalistic conditions and (2) test whether leaders impact or differentially benefit from collective action outcomes. We find that elected leaders are physically strong and have more kin and other exchange partners. Their ranks on physical dominance, kin support, and trustworthiness predict how well their groups perform, but only where group members have a history of collaborative interaction. Leaders do not take more of the spoils. We discuss why physically strong leaders can be compatible with egalitarianism, and we suggest that leaders in egalitarian societies may be more motivated by maintaining an altruistic reputation than by short-term rewards of collective action.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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