In a draft on Wikipedia leadership I labeled the “benevolent dictator” form of leadership in open content communities as “paramount leadership.” As I turn to revisit the topic in my dissertation I am still not satisfied with this term. A possible tactic would be to adopt the native’s term of “benevolent dictator” and use that. The problem, though, with that is that the term is much confused and discussed – which is why it is interesting – and would fail to distinguish the distinct theoretical concept I am offering relative to the wider, imprecise, usage. Paramount means “superior to all others” and serves the purpose of being distinct, but doesn’t quite capture the meaning of this type of leadership in open content communities. Such leaders often have no formal title but founded the community or otherwise achieved the position through merit. They serve to make decisions that the community has a difficult time making itself. And they must act with humility and humor or the community might fail or fork. Some other ideas I’ve been bouncing around are “provisional dictator” and “jester king.” I need something that is the opposite of “Grand Poobah.” Any ideas are welcome!
Joseph Reagle on 2007-02-01
Josh, yes, thanks for the comment. I’ve also considered philosopher king but had similar hesitations and thought I’d have to go read Plato. :)
Josh Greenberg on 2007-02-01
In a sense, “philosopher king” points toward certain aspects of what you’re talking about (particularly the way in which community members treat said leader, as well as the presumption that he or she leads not because of a deep desire to do so but simply because of aptitude). On the other hand, the “philosopher”-ness of said king derives from innate qualities rather than public actions, so it doesn’t quite get there…