If communities are going to form, function, and thrive, their members must identify the leadership that exists. Because there is always much to be done in communities, many leaders are needed. Humans are a talented, intelligent bunch overall, and leaders are abundant. They conduct, control, counsel, direct, govern, guide, head, illuminate, manage, organize, pioneer, preside, run ahead, set the pace, and shepherd. They need not be the loudest or the most opinionated, though those qualities seem to become popular at times.
Leaders come in all ages, races, sexual orientations, economic backgrounds. They may or may not take the stage. Leaders don’t even need to think of themselves as leading to be a leader, though this has often proven useful.
Unfortunately, too often leadership development programs in communities, corporations, and other groups mean shaping individuals into more or less nebulous roles, seeking to change them instead of changing the perspectives on leadership and leaders. At times, people comment that there appears to be a leadership vacuum, complain that no one is leading, taking charge. Occasionally this commentary is followed by an initiative to develop new leaders. Unfortunately, these initiatives too often emphasize moving individuals into leadership roles, providing them with tools to govern. Many times, existing leaders and emerging leaders are sidestepped or made invisible in efforts to develop these new leaders. Supplanting current leaders with new ones is at times illogical. But the initiatives rarely assess what is happening in community that discourages visible, active, assertive leadership. Are their leaders attacked? Criticized? Ignored? Is the emerging leadership being exercised overlooked? Is too much of the community’s hope and aspiration being placed in too few people? Is competition the cultural norm, making leadership exhausting and overly time consuming?
The two-party political system in the US does not so much encourage leadership as it teaches prospective leaders how to manage what seem to be the inevitable, relentless attacks on leaders. Every few years it seems that shifts in congress or state legislatures prompt discussions of how the minority party will slow things down, complicate the process, or erode the executive’s powers. These tactics are not so much about leading as they are about exacting revenge in a system overly devoted to competition instead of cooperation.
This competition of the moneyed clouds decision making among policy makers. The nation ends up with a health care reform that is incremental, but yields much, much less than it should because the a priori decision was to avoid dismantling a deeply flawed insurance industry, one that increasingly became interesting to Wall Street as older benevolent societies came to market as a profit sector. David Axelrod recently pointed out that the gulf oil spill and the Ebola virus outbreak have been described as President Obama’s Katrina. His observation is a great example of one party seeking to diminish their party’s failures by using it as an albatross around the neck of the opposing party’s leadership.
This competition does not serve to solve the problems we face. It does not motivate. It does not bring out our best shared values. It seeks to win public opinion and the next election. With this as a dominant model, why would one choose to lead? Years ago, a beloved colleague and friend said that the leadership challenge of a certain part of the US is that the people who reside there are too afraid to lead and refuse to follow. This perspective is an interesting one worthy of consideration from time to time.
How are our community leaders treated?
What happens to us all when we refer to President Obama as merely Obama?
Are there different effects of saying the President versus our President?
Are policy makers schooled in cooperation and partnership?
How do failed congressional relationships play out on playgrounds?
Is there some reason that the behavior of party operatives is described as assertive while among youth of color it is seen as the behavior of thugs?
How are the actions of ALEC and other such structures exempt from anti-trust laws?
When precisely does incivility get a pass, and why?