On Leadership


On being a leader

I had a friend who said that he could never be friends with anyone who wanted to be a cop because anyone who wanted to be a cop was not going to be a good cop. I guess the same could be said for politicians. If you want to be one, you are unsuitable for the job. I agree somewhat with this sentiment. The word, leader, itself makes me quiver in an unpleasant way, like a leader is someone inexorably  tied to Adolf Hitler or #45.

But somehow I have become a leader.

I joke that the reason I became a leader to my Monday writing group is because I made sure there were chairs for everyone and in a way this is true. But all I was doing was making sure everyone had a seat and the heater was on. And coffee and sometimes cookies and as things evolved I made sure my group on Wednesday had nuts and cheese and crackers when we met in the house. Remember those days when a group of friends could get together in the same room?

I find small talk difficult and being a hostess is a way I can participate with groups of people without having to embarrass myself or others with my inept attempts to converse lightly on forgettable subjects.

That is the joke answer to the question of how I became a leader. The serious one is illustrated by something that happened a lot when I was a teenager. A group of us were sitting around coming on to some ACID. Someone proposed that we go to Cascade Creek and play in the falls there. It took 3 hours for us to get it together to get in the car and go. This delay was caused by the short attention span caused by the drugs of course, but it also happened because no one said, “Let’s get in the car and go.”

Dithering. (gotta look that one up; originally it meant to shiver or tremble, now it means to be indecisive and hesitant).

I get irritable when dithering gets in the way of doing. It seems to be in the nature of groups to  dither until someone says, “Let’s get in the car.” That person is often me. Once you say, “Lets get in the car.” People relax and get in the car, they know what to do, now.

Long and indecisive conversations about where to go, what to do, who to include are not my forte. Because of my ambivalence about leadership (Am I being bossy? Will someone get mad? What if someone goes along and resents it and punishes me later?) I tend to be overly agreeable and avoid conflict. I think I am saying, “Let’s get in the car.” but what I might be saying out loud is, “Are we getting in the car, now?” or, if I am tired and hungry or unsure of the company, I might really dither and say, “I’m hungry” hoping someone will take that as a hint to get in the car. As you can imagine, that is not very effective.

So in my impatience with dithering I became the one to say, “Let’s get in the car.” It’s pretty easy to say and very effective in getting people organized.

The hard part of leadership is when people want me to speak for them. I experience an emotional feeling much akin to the feeling when you’ve swallowed too much unadulterated hard boiled egg yolk. It won’t go down, it won’t come up, my throat is spasming around it. I take that as a clue that I should think carefully before I get involved. I would make a terrible politician. Sometimes I do nothing, sometimes I play it as it lays.

I think people should speak for themselves but in groups that energy flow can get real messy. Pods and cliques can form that can shred a group. Huffs arrive and people depart in them. I worked there and office politics are intensely awful and bewildering. The only way I know how to avoid that egg yolk feeling is to avoid getting in the middle of it but my fear is that the little car we are traveling in together will be broken if I don’t do something. Unfortunately it is never clear to me what that thing is.

I guess that is where rules and laws come from. Instead of pointing a finger to single out a problem, a rule needs to be made making that Troublesome Specific into a general behavior modification. Something clear and followable and, something that is extremely necessary, a rule that does not stir rebellion. “Let’s get in the car, so we can all go to the beautiful creek and play in the waters there.” as opposed to, “Johnny, get the fucking keys and lets get out of here before these flakes drive me nuts!”

I will err on the side of doing nothing beyond saying, “Lets get in the car,” and making sure we have gas and directions and a time to arrive and a phone number just in case someone gets lost and a spare key so that if one locks theirs in their car we can still get in. If I meet resistance I back off. I am not a fighter, a pusher, a blind follower of my own rule of thumb. I don’t call people out in public unless it is absolutely necessary and I hope I never publicly humiliate anyone – ever. I keep the timer but I am not going to mute anyone that has something to say. It’s a fact. I am not a cop and I am not interested in being a cop but that is probably why I ended up being a sort-of-cop to the various groups I lead.


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