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Leadership lessons from history: Jehovah's Witnesses

Leadership lessons from history: Jehovah's Witnesses Purpose – This paper aims to consider the position of Jehovah's Witnesses during the Third Reich. Design/methodology/approach – Drawing on recent research, the author considers leadership and followership lessons that can be gleaned from the Third Reich period of history. Findings – Historians write of the “Führerprinzip” or the “leadership principle” by which Adolf Hitler is seen to have taken and held power in Nazi Germany. Hitler and the Nazi leadership managed to conduct a programme of unthinkable acts, including institutionalised murder on a gargantuan scale, with seemingly limited internal challenge or resistance. Subsequent analysis undertaken in the aftermath of the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials argues that the majority of people will carry out instructions if these are given by an authority figure, even if their action harms others. However, as Professor Milgram and his successors have also shown, not everyone will behave in this way; some people refuse to obey orders which contravene their moral sense or values. This paper aims to summarise the story of one group of people – Jehovah's Witnesses – who, during the Third Reich, refused to comply. Originality/value – The author offers this paper as a case study to highlight some issues about moral leadership, leadership by example, and about the inspiration that can come from unexpected quarters. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The International Journal of Leadership in Public Services Emerald Publishing

Leadership lessons from history: Jehovah's Witnesses

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Publisher
Emerald Publishing
Copyright
Copyright © 2011 Emerald Group Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.
ISSN
1747-9886
DOI
10.1108/17479881111160168
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Purpose – This paper aims to consider the position of Jehovah's Witnesses during the Third Reich. Design/methodology/approach – Drawing on recent research, the author considers leadership and followership lessons that can be gleaned from the Third Reich period of history. Findings – Historians write of the “Führerprinzip” or the “leadership principle” by which Adolf Hitler is seen to have taken and held power in Nazi Germany. Hitler and the Nazi leadership managed to conduct a programme of unthinkable acts, including institutionalised murder on a gargantuan scale, with seemingly limited internal challenge or resistance. Subsequent analysis undertaken in the aftermath of the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials argues that the majority of people will carry out instructions if these are given by an authority figure, even if their action harms others. However, as Professor Milgram and his successors have also shown, not everyone will behave in this way; some people refuse to obey orders which contravene their moral sense or values. This paper aims to summarise the story of one group of people – Jehovah's Witnesses – who, during the Third Reich, refused to comply. Originality/value – The author offers this paper as a case study to highlight some issues about moral leadership, leadership by example, and about the inspiration that can come from unexpected quarters.

Journal

The International Journal of Leadership in Public ServicesEmerald Publishing

Published: May 18, 2011

Keywords: Leadership; Followership; Third Reich; Jehovah's Witnesses; Genocide; Social roles

References