Democracy in Indonesian organizations (part 1) : A view on the culture of leadership

It’s been a while since the first time I intended to write this piece. The intention went on with no words ever typed; well, not until now. This delay did not happen without reason. In my experience as organizational development (OD) practitioner, I’m fully aware that democracy in Indonesia’s organizational context is a critical topic; a topic that requires a thorough examination upon all of my operating assumptions. And, I think the time is ripe enough for me now……. : )

First, allow me to mention that the term democracy here refer to a process of exercising power in a socially accountable way; whatever it may resonate to whoever. Having said that, I want to highlight the balance in power dynamic as the reason of democracy. This goes along with this warning: Just because people are stood in line next to the voting booth, it does not necessarily mean there is democracy in there.

Second, we are talking about organizations, not just states; we are talking about Indonesian people, not US or the European Union. Indonesian organizations consist of many forms: government, businesses, NGO, religious organization, traditional/cultural associations, ethnic and familial clans, and many others. As a national discourse, they support the necessity of democratic government.

Nevertheless, many of them see democratic system as irrelevant in governing their own organizations. In many developed countries, democracy has not yet been a part of the culture and history. Indonesia, as well as most of other Asian democratic countries, is democratic society in the making.

It is a bit difficult to deny that most businesses and social organizations in Indonesia are mostly operating under the benevolent-authoritative principle. The presence of so-called ‘charismatic leader’ is utterly essential to lead the people in the organization.

We can learn from some cases when the absence of these charismatic leaders reduce organizations into merely crowds with flags and uniforms, but no directions. I see that there were already too many examples for this. This explains why some people are very fond of this charismatic leadership; a term that often twisting with a socially accepted dictatorship.

And, as most Indonesian learned from their history, some of these leaders had become benign-dictator; and many others became notorious for their atrocious dictatorship. In addition, some of them created oligarchy, manipulated worker unions and other types corrupted power establishments. The distinction between the two is only determined by what the follower believe as the result of their leadership. When the result is viewed as good and protective, then the leader is a benign-dictator. But still, dictatorship, how benign it can be, does not sound fit with democracy.

Therefore, democratic values are new emerging value, not basic values rooted in the Indonesian culture and history. It’s a promising new way of state governance, not yet a fundamental social value. It sounds good in terms of improving the state government, but not ‘sexy’ enough to be adopted by organizations.

So, is this a state of pessimism? No. Is the idea of transforming Indonesian organizations to become more democratic merely a wishful thinking? No.
I believe that the people are still learning to do what Richard Axelrod called as ’embracing democratic values’.

The next questions are: Will Indonesian organizations evolve to become more democratic? How this evolution will happen?

To be continued on part 2…..


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3 responses to “Democracy in Indonesian organizations (part 1) : A view on the culture of leadership

  1. Thanks for the article. I think democracy is always in the process. Therefore, the right terms is not democracy, but democratization, because it is a dynamic and very rich process. It is an ongoing process. It includes certain values and practices. It includes strategic, philosophical, and pragmatic thinking and action.

    In the end, the most important thing is the spirit. Indonesia as a nation and state is nothing without the spirit of nationalism based on the awareness that we are one despite the differences. The essence of organization is communication, and genuine communication can only be built by individuals who have the same spirit and awareness. Lack of spirit and awareness is the biggest problem faced by organizations (and states), including Indonesia.

    • Yes, democratization implies more on how we do it rather then how we name it.
      Spirit of being human kind, or a nation, or a state, or a society that consist of interwoven diversity is the ultimate paradox of social life. I’ll go deeper on this on part 2 : ).

  2. The spirit of paradox… Many but one. Evil but good. Individual but social. Im trying to reading slavoj Zizek, well known contemporary philosopher. He wrote a lot about negation of the symbolic and the imaginary. That we are being toward real, and therefore never be real enough. Confusing. Full of paradox. Full of contradictions, i must say. I wonder what would he say concerning nation and organizations.

Any thoughts?

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