Sunday, June 23, 2013

Barnes on leadership

Welcome back, Ron.

Ron Barnes has been a leader on leadership for decades, and deserves great credit for positive effect on this community from his hard work to walk the talk. His book Lessons for Leaders is a good manual for those who aspire to do well in doing good. Obviously a single column can't cover the entire gamut, though, and while Ron's comments today are certainly valuable, I'd like to build on it and invert their focus. Yes, we need effective, service-oriented leaders, but I think we are far more gravely and generally in need of better followership skills.

The only power of leadership is in inspiring and motivating others. The best and most dedicated servant-leader can have little effect where few people are able to distinguish those leadership qualities, respect and embrace the value of those who have them, or understand the system principles necessary to effective collective action.

Where the culture is generally cynical about the motivations and competence of anyone who would take up the responsibilities of public service, why would anyone with any sense get involved? We tend to get the kind of leadership we deserve, sad to say.

But culture isn't about uniformity, it's about thresholds. If enough people hold a given value, it becomes a cultural norm, and the "enough" to trigger that shift need not be anything like a majority.

Promoting the PAL program is a good thing, but I think a followup on followership from Ron could spread more effective seeds.

And by the way, the Courier's headline for this column indicates just how far we have to go in teaching people to distinguish the qualities of servant-leadership. The editor saw "effective leader," passed it through the filter of his/her own ideas and reflexively applied the reactionary dog-whistle "moral compass," which you'll notice appears nowhere in the column. Note the commenters following the scent.

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