I am currently taking a course on Advanced Leadership. As the President of a non-profit organization that commands 50+ members, a $50,000 budget, and an alumni base of over 350, this class has been useful in understanding leadership dynamics and assessing myself as a leader within the organization.
I always listen to what we are learning- primarily, leadership theories (though very often they seem more to me like management theories), but also leadership expectations and other various facets of leadership. The books we use in class, so that you have a background of my background, are Leadership: Theory and Practice (Sixth Ed.), by Peter G. Northouse, and The Leadership Challenge, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner.
Though my teacher and most of the class prefer the latter textbook, I prefer the first. The second seems an attempt to make everyone feel as if they can be transformed into a leader. I disagree. It is an easy read, and it seems targeted at the least common denominator- an attempt to champion the theme “no leader left behind.”
Yesterday we talked, in part, about perceptions of leadership, and what constitutes a “good” leader versus a “bad” leader. Sitting in the category of the “universally unacceptable traits” of a leader were the words “loner” and “asocial.” I am not an emotional person (this does not mean that I do not feel emotion- on the contrary, I feel quite deeply), but seeing this made me sad. Because it is a small class and we vocalize our thoughts, I said, “It makes me sad to see that loner and asocial are universally unacceptable leadership traits.”
The teacher said that it didn’t mean extroverted and introverted, and that an introverted person can be quite extroverted. I already knew this- it is the case for me. The class chimed in and there were many comments of, “a leader shouldn’t stand in the corner and not socialize.” “A leader should be social and interactive.” “A leader shouldn’t be alone.” “A leader should be dynamic and involved.”
I get these comments, and to an extent, I agree. In committee in Model UN, these comments are entirely correct. But that was not my concern, and the discussion moved on without anyone understanding that by “sad” I meant that I was profoundly disturbed. But this sadness was pushed to the wayside as the discussion moved forward and no one vocalized a sense of understanding at the concern I had addressed.
And maybe I’m wrong. That’s fine, too. But why is it universally unacceptable to be a loner? To be asocial? Leaders are very often alone, and very often misunderstood. Very often they do not want, once again, to attend an event or meeting with so many people, all wanting something and demanding action when none of these wants or demands coincide or are even possible. Very often it is a psychological burden to be social and to attend to every individual’s impossible wants, which – as a leader, it must be kept at the forefront of the mind- are very often reflections of a larger group of people, which means even MORE individuals who are depending on you, the leader, to define their lives. It is exhausting.
In leadership, I value competence and intelligence. Very often these two traits coincide with being identified as a “loner” and as “asocial.” I saw those words and just imagined a leader, exhausted and alone and misunderstood and heavy with the dark depressing knowledge that he or she can never be what they want to be or are expected to be because, in the end, they are human and nothing else, and can no one see their humanity? I imagined them standing alone, coping with the suffocating recesses of their mind, and the crowd behind them pointing, menacing, saying, “he is not a leader, he is a loner.”
No one looks and says, “does he need help? Does he need companionship? Does he need someone to show him that they understand he is human and that is all?” No one looks and says, “let us bestow upon him an embrace, to show that he is not alone.” No one looks and says, “what does he need? What might he want?” They see him and blame him for not always being social, for not always looking at the corner, knowing he wants to be there, and avoiding it because this very thing might happen.
That is what made me sad.
It is universally unacceptable to be human and to be alone and to be lonely and to be caught wrestling with the cage of the suffocatingly binding constraints of the mind that is sought to represent the world.
One thought on “Leadership”
I’ve never taken a management class in my life, but I have led and I have also worked with a lot of different leaders and one of the things I’ve noticed is that groups and organizations can be hugely different in their character. Many of the organizations that I’ve observed want precisely the kind of leader your class is identifying — they want and need a social connection with the person who is organizing them, guiding them, or ruling them (all different kinds of strong management) — but some really do not and, if given an “engaged” leader become quite hard to direct. I think there are places for the detached leader in all of this. I think there is also a place for the leader who leads “from behind,” forcing the group to find its own humanity and embrace the success of the mission themselves, supporting an insecure or troubled leader hand helping him/her succeed. There are more situations in heaven and earth than are dreamt of…