by Devorah Greenspan
In 1964 the Shangri-Las sang: “That’s when I fell for the leader of the pack.” (The sound of a revving motorcycle engine followed.)
Chart topper “Leader of the Pack” featured a teenage leader followed by a blue-collar social group that fancied motorcycles. The girlfriend, Betty, is from a white-collar family. Why is Jimmy the leader? Perhaps leadership here dares to cross socio-economic lines. Jimmy pays the ultimate price for his risk after Betty’s parents tell her not to “be lowered.”
Leaders are praised for their ability to motivate people and get things done. The leaders are the folks in charge. Is “being in charge” a decision-making process or is there a sole decision-maker? Good leadership is part of a structure that recognizes that both are necessary, that the former is not just a rubber stamp and that latter not a habit. Once in a while someone through merit becomes a leader. However, the vetting process occupies many positions along the way. This vetting begins with family standing, basic education or human services. Social groups always follow someone. How is this group held together? Does the person being followed maintain their status by vilifying someone they don’t want in the group? History offers many “cult of personality” examples from groups such as monarchies, dictators, entertainers and even criminals. More prevalent today is an “I’ve arrived” syndrome, a sense of “I don’t have to” for those “lower.” As in any field, leaders can easily take on the role of mentor, gatekeeper or both. As Nell Painter wrote, “You can be the greatest artist in the world, but if the eyes that matter aren’t on your work and if the people who count don’t speak up for you, you hardly exist beyond your own local circle.” (Quoted from “Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over,” DB 93816 chapter 11.)
The author/artist had a network of her own, friends, former professional colleagues to offset the snubs she received during her formal art training. Leaders, though, are in every informal and incorporated organization. For example, consider daily operations in the information network. Who receives what types of email content? It is increasingly common in society for many incorporated organizations and institutions, especially larger ones, to set up their system to send external incoming email automatically to the “junk” folder or what seems to be an inbox auto dump. The nicer ones include a thank you auto reply.
How are the phones staffed? An example of distancing is the installation of a “the person at extension 0201 is not available.” This is the “go away” box. There is no name or department attached to the voicemail greeting. Do callers get data mined? Most of us have heard the automated: “Is someone is your home 50 years or older?” I hang up on their marketing, before I am eventually told no one is available or met with scripted responses.
In our uneven “get what you can” culture where everyone cheats, those of us on the bottom can still culturally cite corporate CEOs and all the politicians who court our vote and money, then once in office, ignore us commoners. As disabled people we discuss accessibility in the larger world. Then among ourselves, are our leaders accessible? In January 2019, I tried to call attention to the problem with CAPTCHA as I flunked yet another eye test. No reply. How many emails on a subject create a critical mass?
How do leaders respond to questions and ideas that seem to rub against the routine? These are the operational questions and suggestions often regarded as a threat or dissident rather than systems analysis. How does input impact the goal desired? What credentials are required for a voice to be heard? Avoiding scripted answers can build teaching skills for the person addressing the question. Many in positions of leadership fall into a pit where they become absorbed by their title and retaining a sense of power.
Arnold Eric Sevareid, news journalist and author (1912-1992), wrote: “The difference between the men and the boys in politics is, and always has been, that the boys want to be something, while the men want to do something.”
There are too many boys and girls out there. Translate that into any organizational leader. Is she able to utilize her office for the general good, or is she a title waver? The first word coming to mind is “responsibility,” knowing the organizational history, structure, present situation and goals. A good leader knows procedural parameters are guidelines that cover the vast majority of situations, but recognizes not 100 percent of the time. Some virtues of leadership are honesty and fairness. When do circumstances warrant stepping outside the rules and regulations? If so, what provisions are made? Who can admit they don’t know something they are expected to know, or made a mistake? How does a leader judge others who make varying degrees of mistakes? What is deemed inappropriate? Is there an evenly applied standard?
How does a leader instill in staff and volunteers a greater sense of purpose beyond mere functionality? At this point in time, altruism is frowned upon. Intangible wealth is not like material possessions. Intangible wealth cannot be quantified. How are followers rewarded? What is the dividend on their investment?
Perpetually a private in the proverbial trenches, I have experienced bullet-like friction, sounding like a large bug whizzing past my ear, or a routine day interrupted by an impact taking off a piece of my shoe, hopping, then running surprisingly fast. Wounded in many ways, visually impaired, I watch my own back.