photo by SG

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dealing With Leadership

Lots of people who operate in the milieu that I'm down with nowawadays, which I guess could be called the organized anarchist scene, are interested in the idea of leadership. Differing from recent anarchist common sense which sees "leadership" as a static concept that can't be separated from its deployment in hierarchical organizations, I'd say our sense of leadership is more about the actual fact that some people take positions of social leadership in an organization (be it at work, a union, a political organization) through the esteem of their fellow participants. They may be good leaders or bad leaders, or more likely somewhere in between, and its our job as organizers to bring those people over to our cause, work on the bad qualities that they exhibit, and work with them to build up the leadership qualities of their followers. In short, we see leadership as the ultimate goal for every worker, and building the leadership qualities in every worker as a key part of our work.

Okay, so that's what we set out to do. But dealing with leadership once when finds oneself in the position of having it is an interesting problem contend with. I'm finding myself in two positions in my life where I'm now a social leader (work and my IWW local) and am having to think through the next steps of how I carry myself forward. I feel like I have a pretty good idea of how to build other people up to take on leadership positions, I'm less clear about where they/I should go from there, once they have social leadership positions and are organized. How do I act in a way that's accountable to the people who look up to me and see me as a leader? How do I bring them up and focus my work on building their leadership abilities while still carrying out the tasks that I need to do as part of the life of the organization?

Also, on an emotional level, how do we deal with other people looking up to us and looking to us for answers? In some ways, this is a smaller version of a problem that I bring up in a rather confusingly written post from two years ago (Jesus, has it been that long since I've been writing on this thing?) about Lenin and being a leader of a powerful organization. Even at a smaller level though, this still operates. I feel a good bit of apprehension when people in the IWW ask me questions about how they should run their campaigns, as frequently happens to me now from newer members. My first instinct is to go "shit, I don't know, don't ask me!" because I don't want people to make mistakes on my account and then lose their campaigns or their jobs. But fighting through that instinct, which is hard to do, is important to actually providing people ideas they hadn't thought of, usually through asking questions, and pushing the work forwards.

I think there's a quality of dealing with leadership that has to do with confidence. Leaders with too much self-confidence always have the answer, even if that answer is wrong, and will quickly communicate the answer to their followers as soon as they are asked. Leaders with not enough confidence quickly stop providing leadership because they can't help people with the problems that they're confronted with. There seems to be some line in the middle where a leader can both provide ideas and be reflective about the nature of those ideas. How do we walk that line carefully? And maybe even more importantly, how do we foster conversations about leadership with social leaders in our organizations without making those conversations a way of excluding people who don't have access to them?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hey John,
Good to see you blogging again, I missed this piece until now. I like it. I'd like to suggest you rework it into a workers power piece about the basic concept of leadership and the emotional side. If you're open to that let me know, and let me know if you'd like more detailed comments.