Leadership and Being Used
Joe Clark ~~ Jan 27, 2002

I went to a leadership planning meeting tonight. The general topic of leadership reminded me of some thoughts I used to have on leadership and such, the sorts of thoughts I still have in the back of my mind.

To begin with, I've never felt much like a leader, even though I think I have some good, creative ideas for how things should be done. The problem, is, I believe, that my ideas are weird. I tell weird jokes, I say weird things that aren't jokes, and I think weird things. These often aren't bad things...just different, and one of two things is true: 1) My weird ideas are ideas that are completely my own thinking and it's not appropriate to expect anyone else to support them; or 2) my weird ideas are good ideas that are just out of place in the don't-want-to-be-bothered-with-something-different culture they are presented in. Figuring out which of these two possibilities is the correct one is a difficult problem. It's also to be considered that a large part of the success of an idea is how well it is communicated to interested parties -- and that form of communication (often on the spot, in person, vocal communication) is something I've not been very good at, and it may be true that an idea that's only on paper is an idea that is easily ignored. :-) Finally, it's not to be ignored that I really don't have a lot of experience in "I told you so"ness. What I mean is that I don't have a tremendously long track record of how great my ideas were in the past, whether they were brought to reality or not. So that makes it more difficult to determine what's a worthwhile idea and what's just a "sounds good to Joe" idea.

I think a basic idea of a good leader could be a twofold description something like "someone who has good ideas and someone who has the charisma to convince others that the ideas are good ideas". There's my problem, I suppose. I may have the first part, but not the second. I have the traits, so I'm told, of being softspoken, meek, and several other similarly bittersweet terms. So I don't have the drive in me to force my ideas on other people...I may whine and complain when my ideas are ignored, but that's usually the extent of the reaction.

In connection with this, some people tell me that I let people use me, something that is obviously not a good trait, and not a trait of a good leader. How does this come about? I think it comes about from trying to please people. It comes about because I want people to get along. It comes about because I'd like for everyone to be happy. It comes about because I try to consider everyone's "feelings" in decisions. It comes about because I'd like to think that one person's success does not need to come at someone else's expense. So with all that sappy stuff, I end up not being very forceful, and tend to just live with stuff and complain quietly to myself rather than make a scene in public and stand up for things. I suppose Mr. Pyschologist Joe could also see in that an attempt to avoid rejection, since people are less likely to reject you if you never "rock the boat" and counter what they want or expect.

So how does the softspoken guy with ideas that seem good to him find some sort of leadership balance? I'm not really sure. I suppose I'll continue to present my ideas in a nice but "we should do this" manner, and maybe people would agree with me that some of my ideas are worthwhile and wise. As a sort-of aside, I think it's important for leader-type people to treat as one of their top priorities the opinions of the led. There are times when those opinions need to be overruled, but this should be done with caution. If the followers have a brain (which, let's see, most humans do), then their feelings, their opinions, their recommendations and complaints should carry weight. It all comes back to the "walk a mile in their shoes" line (not, by the way, the "assume what it would be like to walk a mile in their shoes" line). I'm a bit fond of surveys to gather public opinion. There are some problems with surveys (like what if the majority of people don't like my good ideas!!), but they are a valuable tool in many cases.

Those are my brief thoughts on leadership. As I take on more leadership-type roles, perhaps my thoughts on the topic will become more refined or even perhaps more traditional. Or maybe because I'm dumb and write honest stuff like this I'll never be given those true leadership roles. I'm not sure, and I'm not sure that I really care. There is value in being able to speak my mind, whether that be in a leadership role or as an exercise of "observe the state of things and comment from the perspective of a commoner".