Leadership (said with a sneer)
I hate the word, “Leader.” It’s lost every shred of meaning it once held for me. Leadership once meant authority and concern for the welfare of everyone in its reach. Now it sounds like a fake word with fake facts to support its nothingness. A poser, posing as a real idea. Maybe I’ve seen one too many bad leaders come into power and spoil the essence of what it means to guide a group of people toward a shared goal.
When Leader falls into the realm of fakeness, every part of society suffers in ways that are hard to identify. People go hungry for what’s real and they get depressed and panicky and eat too much sugar. Then we get fat and we judge ourselves for losing control. Emotional health epidemics have everything to do with dysfunctional leadership, or A Failure of Nerve.
So, I want to take back the word. Remember the Vagina Monologues? Remember how those actors reclaimed the various words used to insult women’s genitals? Like, C – U – N – T. They spoke it and saturated it with specific, positive meaning. I need to do something similar here, for my self, my family, and my clients, with the word, “Leader.”
Because I have to be one. And so do you.
Because, if you parent, teach, counsel, advise, or instruct, you lead. And thank God you do. We starve for your good leadership. Everybody needs a healthy leader (even if they don’t know it and try to sabotage it).
But look for one and you realize how few good leaders there seem to be in the world. The good ones don’t grab the microphone and make themselves obvious. They live in libraries and work in battered women’s shelters. They labor behind the scenes.
We confuse and conflate leadership with a bunch of other things.
To target this confusion, I give you a short list. I hope that by separating Leader from these other things, we can see more clearly what Leader is and cultivate Leader in our selves.
Leadership. Does. Not. Equal:
- making money or fiscal policy. But healthy leadership fosters creative growth, which, in time, helps more people generate income. Healthy leaders are patient for this.
- politics. Enough said.
- a quick fix. Leadership takes a long view of progress (see #1).
- controversy. Yet . . . good leaders take unpopular stands when necessary for the good of the whole body. These unpopular stands tend to bring out all our better natures by modeling wisdom in action.
- scaring the wits out of – or using people. It isn’t a tirade. Healthy leaders help us calm down and think rationally. Picture good parents here. A wise elder puts things into perspective so we can breathe more easily. “It’s going to be okay.”
- focusing on issues. It’s not driven by the anxiety or the problems in the group. Healthy leaders take care of themselves and keep the bigger picture in mind. They listen calmly to the issues of their people, but keep pointing to the transcendent goals of the community . . . what really matters in the long run (e.g., how we treat each other).
- neutrality. A healthy leader sees how the system works and calls out any dishonesty or bullying. Real leaders see and address dysfunctional behavior in a responsible way. They prohibit intentional and/or unnecessary violence.
- divisiveness. True leaders foster unity, because at some level, we are all one. They help us appreciate each other.
- self-aggrandizement. Healthy leaders exude humility in confidence. Yes, that’s a real thing. It says: I don’t know everything, but I can listen and learn.
In conclusion, we need to know the difference between: (A) health-promoting leadership and (B) health-compromising leadership. We need to distinguish between Leadership and the grab for power. We can learn this and do this. Like choosing broccoli over Cheetos. Like telling your kids, friends are more important than money. Like talking to your mate instead of shopping to fill the void. We can exercise our leadership muscles and take back the L-word.