Leadership

I stand accused of being a fraud because even though I refuse to take on the designation and role of leader, my actual behaviour suggests otherwise apparently. So I’m kind of wondering what it is I am doing that is giving this impression. I’ve always had a sense of what is right or correct, a strong sense of responsibility, an interest in new ideas and a desire to communicate those ideas. I like to think I’m a good communicator of those ideas. I aim to care for and think about the people in my life and to help them when I can and when appropriate, occasionally It’s been suggested that I’m a bit charismatic!? I’m not too sure about that last one. I happen to believe that the others are perfectly normal human traits available to everyone to a greater or lesser degree.

A couple of years ago I was approached by someone, who said that they had been giving some thought to my becoming a leader within the network of peer counsellors that I had reconnected with. I was a bit taken aback by this pronouncement and my gut response was to say, “well good luck with that one”, a response which was just as much of a surprise to them. I think what irked me about it at the time was that, at no point was I given any advanced notice about this decision. My input hadn’t been sought. To me it was a thoroughly unworkable way of going about things; for someone else to decide that I was going to, “be” something.

My own past experiences in leadership have been pretty much disastrous; particularly for me. It’s not a role that I would naturally choose for myself, and I think with good reason. I’m someone who feels far more comfortable in the background, I really don’t like being the centre of attention, and as a leader being up front and centre is a key part of the territory. And yes, I do know the advice is that everyone needs to step out of their comfort zone now and then, but it still has to be my decision and my choice. Otherwise it could do more damage than good.

It seems to me that the minute someone is designated, or designates themself, as a leader, it immediately becomes open season for anyone who wants to take a pot shot at them. The shooter may not even have any grievance against the person who has taken on the role. It’s just the office of leader itself that seems to be the target.

So what is this thing called leadership? I think part of the problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear definition of the role. Ask six different people to define it and you’ll probably get six different descriptions. Each leader will also have their own ideas about leading.

Thinking about it, I’m wondering who the first leader was that any of us can remember? It was probably a parent or another significant adult in our early lives. Someone we looked up to for guidance, teaching and support. Sometimes they got things right and sometimes they got things wrong. That’s the nature of being a parent; it also seems to be the nature of being a leader.

I consider myself a working class man who also, earlier in life, fell foul of the mental health system. I tend to see those two institutions, the class system and the mental health system as in cahoots. The latter as an agent of the former. I guess a psychiatrist would suggest that was just my paranoia but, as someone else has said, “just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you”.

I’m the first to admit that I have something of an issue with authority. It always seemed to me that leadership, when practised on me, was more about control than a benign form of management. From when I was a dot, bigger people than me were hell bent on trying to shape me into something. Something that was more of an image of what they wanted me to be. Starting with parents and the older siblings in my family. Then I was handed over to teachers, doctors and any other authority figure in society for them to continue the moulding and shaping of my personality. This was the path of, not just my life, but of everyone around me. Eventually I entered the world of work, where the moulding and shaping went into overdrive. Any individual thinking or innovative suggestion was frowned upon, and if I dared to question the logic of any authority, well that was usually met with a firm put down.

So given the models of authority and leadership that have been imposed on me for all of my life, is it any wonder that I’m reluctant to take on the role myself. I’ve no desire to be like any of them. Let alone put up with the flack that would inevitably come my way.

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