So, I am doing my usual Thursday routine. Sitting at my keyboard, music pouring through the headphones (today its Deep Purple, and currently its the album “The Battle Rages On…” which may be quite appropriate), and trying to come up with something to write about. I mean, this is a ‘Thinking About” post. It should be as easy as ever to come up with some kind of concept to babble on about. Except its really not. Writer’s cramps (or writer’s block, if you prefer) has been in a strong hold for the last week-plus. So I sit here wondering what to write on. I can tell you that moments like this are frustrating, but also a lot of fun. Quite the contradiction, don’t you think? I get to spend time turning topics over and over in my mind…hopefully I can latch on to one and get started on all of this.
For some reason, the concept of leadership continues to boil around the edges of everything that I am thinking about, so let’s go there. Most of my perspectives of what makes one an ideal leadership come from what I learned in the military. The United States Air Force thought enough of my potential to lead that they sent me to two leadership schools. But before we get too excited over this, both are mandatory training schools for those who sign up for a second hitch with the United States Air Force. I took my first class, the Non-Commissioned Officer Preparatory School in my fourth year of my first enlistment, shortly after I had signed on to my second enlistment. The premise of the school was to teach leadership skills and how to build effective communication skills – focusing on making me into an effective front-line supervisor. I did not exactly excel at this training, but I was not at the end of the group either. I learned about methodologies to create more effective communication with subordinates, as well as finding my footing as an individual that would be able to lead. In particular, the school taught me a lot about how to lead by example, something I have tried very hard to do in whatever job I have been installed into. Three years later, I was inserted into the NCO Leadership School, which was a continuation of what I had learned three years previous. Many lectures ensued. I was taught how to march subordinates as a unit (a skill I personally found to be utterly useless), as well as more training on weaponry and tactical skills that I might need to use in a combat situation. Through all of that, hardcore emphasis on leadership skills and abilities, as well as effective communication were heavily emphasized. Much of what I have learned in methodologies, I have carried forth in my life since then.
What makes an effective leader? Well, for me, its obvious – an ability to effectively communicate with others coupled to an ability to lead people towards a common goal. In thirty-plus years in Paganism, I have encountered effective leaders, and those that would make you laugh and cry at their ineptitude. For some, the power of being a leader goes to their heads, and they become tyrants. If you need a visual, think Donald Trump on a much smaller scale. I have also seen quiet leaders, who roll up their sleeves and start getting the work done. They don’t push others to do the work, they might openly ask, but they hope that their example of getting the work done will inspire others to be involved. I like these types of leaders. Not only do they seem willing to do the work, but they typically are also willing to show others how to do the work – so as to build their skills too.
But that brings me to another thought. What about being a good follower? After all, not every single person can be in charge. Unfortunately, I see a lot of the “too many leaders and not enough followers” within the Pagan community. I get the perspective though. Everyone has a better idea of how to run things compared to whoever happened to step forward. I’m the same way. Whoa. Don’t look so shocked. I have ideas of how things should go. I have ideas of what the better steps of making things run should be. At least from my own perspective. It took a little bit of growing up and realizing that I do not have all the right answers to set me straight. Making something that is setup for the good of everyone means that you have to swallow your pride and sit on your ego, when the direction is not completely your own personal vision. To be a good follower, you may need to remember the direction that the cause is going. Plus, no project or vision went anywhere without people doing the hard work. That means taking direction. That means using your talents and your sweat to get things accomplished. That also means that you cannot always be the one at the top of the pile. Success happens when everyone works together.
My previous job was at a local Community College. To be honest, I have never seen a more dysfunctional work environment in my life. Upper Management declared that they would be transparent in all that they do with the entire staff and faculty base. Over time, it became obvious that they only shared what they felt everyone else needed to know, while continuing to cling to the perspective of being transparent. The work environment felt like the Pharaohs themselves had returned. Many employees were told to just do their work and not worry about the direction that everything was headed. People that wanted to be good followers were confused with the say one thing and do something completely different approach. Leadership was ineffective. Employees tried to offer ideas of how to fix things and were shot down without a second thought. That lead to anger and resentment, and these folks started to do just enough to get by with their jobs. That lead to anger and resentment from others who were working hard. And all of it was due to a single variable: ineffective communication by upper management. There’s a few other things that exacerbate the entire situation – leadership that constantly and continually changes its mind concerning short and long range plans. And while I no longer work there, I still feel sad for all those that do.
When I was in the military, I learned a phrase that I still use. In fact, at my previous job, I stated this to my supervisor behind a closed door one afternoon: “lead, follow or get out of the way.” Accomplishing things is important, particularly when a group of other people are relying on those results. Ever wondered what goes into planning a Pagan conference like Pantheacon? A lot more than I really wanted to know. There are lots of moving parts. Everyone has a role to fulfill. Some are time intensive. Some require everything to be right at a particular moment in time. Power struggles are unforgivable lapses in accomplishing one’s role. In an environment like that, there’s a lot of “get out of the way” involved. In the military, one of my functions was to insure that crypto-communications were cycled to appropriate command-level personnel in a very timely fashion. Morning intelligence briefings had to be cycled down to the USAF Intel group, the US Army S2 group, and the NATO Intelligence group before 6am. Being late because a printer broke down was an inexcusable fault. My unit’s job was to make sure things ran correctly so things like that would happen. We accepted our role in the process, and agreed to perform to the very best of our abilities. We agreed to be good followers. We were not about to go down to each of those groups and tell them that the large Intel briefing should be held after 8am, so that we could have our breakfast and coffee without being rushed through that momentary morning pleasure.
Now, Pagan communities are not military units. But there are roles and functions to fulfill. Not everyone can be at the top trying to pull everything together. But those who are, they better damn well understand the need for effective communication. They better understand the concept of rolling up their sleeves and working side by side with those that they lead. And those who have roles, functions and responsibilities need to understand that they have agreed to do what they are being asked to do. And if they cannot or will not do what they are agreeing to…they need to get out of the way.
I still hold by the basic principle that I am not a leader. Because I am not. I understand how leadership works in theory. In practice, I’m not the greatest at it. And I know it. I know how and where my personality clashes with others. I know where my weaknesses are. I know my strengths. I know precisely where my intolerances are located, and how far I can be pushed before things go beyond a controllable point. Am I a good follower? I try my best, but not always. But I do recognize leaders that I would follow. I see what they are capable of and where they can be pushed a little further. I know who I would follow and who I wouldn’t. And for me that counts for something. What that means to you, for you, or about you is something you will need to determine for yourself. What leadership looks like….that all comes back to your own personal understanding.