12.24.2011

A Note on Leadership from a Dissenting, Conscientious Objector

I observe leaders and I am let down by them continuously. I have been experiencing this phenomenon since I was in first grade--disappointed by how my teacher acted with my classmates. I've never found the role of blind, mute follower an easy path to walk. I'm the dissenting, conscientious objector.

People sometimes get carried away by their title and role. They see the power and appreciation, and popularity granted to them by being in a leadership office or role. They forget, the most fundamental rule, that they are not there for themselves--they're not special-- they're there to serve an urgent need in that particular group or community. Leadership is a role of service.

What does it mean to be a leader? You are supposed to be sociable, lead a group to a particular goal--and then another--breathe and eat the group's philosophy, be earnest, and be trust-worthy.

Your energy level will translate into people's opinion of your group and your group's achievements. You are the evangelist for the group with external entities, and the cheerleader internally to stimulate and propagate the mission and objectives.

I would imagine that an insatiable need to learn and improve would help a leader be the best s/he can be. However, one's own personal and professional journey should not be mirrored in a flip-flopping of philosophy. Imagine changing goals, metrics, and leadership style on a periodical basis, depending on what new inspiring book the leader is reading. You should be the constant, running on high, percolating your group to forward momentum.

You need to build a ramp for your group to advance on, never mind whether you initiated the group, or you are leading it onward from another beginning. This is why it's so important to lead as a role model.

Whenever someone from a leadership standpoint behaves in a manner unbecoming, you'll never be able to glue your reputation back together again, dear humpty dumpty, no matter how hard you try. You can only work towards optimizing people's short-term memory, and the out-of-sight-out-of-mind principle. But that's a dirty way to live.

I may not question leadership openly, as people (both the leader and its followers) become incredibly defensive when leadership is questioned, but I certainly ask a lot of questions internally. And my character observations are usually spot on.

Many people direct and channel their disappointment in a bad leader as nay-saying, negative comments, mud-slinging, and more. You can tell these are child-like reactions by the earnestness and force with which the insults fly out of people's mouths. Hate the president? Hate a political party? Hate the draft? It's so easy to mud sling.

But very few take action to actually fix the problem of a bad or inadequate leader. No one steps up to unite the people and select a new leader. It's always more comfortable to be led than to lead. People are guilt-tripped into not speaking up, standing out, and leading a different path. Imagine what would have happened if Martin Luther hadn't led a few into a new religion? Where would millions of people worship today? Leadership definitely doesn't come naturally.

It's perhaps a preponderance of unlucky leaders that are dragged into their role, kicking and screaming, that has created a leadership wariness in the population.

And let's not confuse loud-mouths and busy-bodies with leaders. Just because someone is loud and acts with assuredness, and people don't question enough and follow blindly, it doesn't mean they're a leader. No, it just means there's plenty of sheep happy to be led into slaugther. Otherwise, how would you explain the Greek Sorority and Fraternity business? When so few are ready to act, it's so easy to be lazy and follow...

A leader plays many roles, but the important stance of quick-thinking, stability, and permanence are among the most important. People must get comfortable, but not too comfortable. You need to move forward and build momentum, not become stuck in a rut. Adaptability and progressiveness are insurmountable traits that somehow a leader must wrap his/her arms around.

What do you look for in a leader? Or more importantly, what do you do once you realize a leader is not up to the challenge?