Senior Associate Dean Jeffrey Sonnenfeld on the 'Courage and Cowardice' of Crowds
In an essay in the Huffington Post, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the senior associate dean for executive programs and Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management, argues that heroic leaders can overcome the cowardice and apathy that are sometimes observed in crowds.
Courage and Cowardice When Crowds and Congress Fail Us
Beware of the media cynicism about groups such as the recent apathetic subway passengers on a platform mishap, or the stalled-out U.S. Congress. Crowds can act with courage to do the right thing when properly inspired. In this age of liberated or "empowered," "self-directed work teams" and the rational seeking presumed "wisdom of crowds," there is still a role for heroes, the vital few who defy reason and safety to make a difference for us all.
The closing month of the year was bookended with paradoxical models of cowardice and courage as lessons for Congress and the rest of us. The month opened with the tragic scene of a doomed man pushed on to a subway track crying for help while motionless onlookers looked on paralyzed in horror. The following week ended with a scene of teachers instinctively shielding young school children from a deranged machine gunner with their own bodies.
Psychological research partially helps explain our cowardly inaction but not our courage to act. Conflicting headlines and contradictory research do not provide much guidance, just one-sided reason for unproductive despair.
Read the full essay.