Leadership Paradox

I recently began formally mentoring someone, and so I have been thinking about the nature of leadership. There’s a bind that “leaders” face. It has to do with the expectations of those who are led, and of the person who is trying to be a helpful leader.

Consider the teacher of yoga class. They “lead” the class.

On the one hand, as a member of the class, I want someone to inspire me and instruct me, to push me to do “better” and to “improve.”

But on the other hand, in reality the effort I make is personal. My yoga teacher does not actually make me perform “better,” but instead sets me up to unlock the capabilities I already have. True, she or he may invite me to try to work beyond my limitations. And true, I may practice with others, and the feeling of being in community may lift me. But it is always me, on my mat, alone, making the effort.

The abilities I have are all already locked within me.

And so here is the leadership paradox: If I am a leader, I have knowledge to pass on and I know that I might be able to spur others to self-surpass. But would it not be a shame if what others take away from me was that I “made them do well?” For then, what they learned was that they need someone else in order to perform.

As a leader, I want to awaken people to what they already have the capacity to do. I want to cultivate the sense that a leader is unnecessary — if not now, then soon.

As a student, what I may then learn is that self-surpassing is always fundamentally available to me, solely through my own efforts.

A Theory of Community

 

  1. Human beings are innately social. We live together in groups.

  2. Living together brings a number of benefits: we can protect ourselves, we can pool resources, we can find safety when vulnerable due to illness, we can raise children, we can better shelter ourselves from elements. These things motivate our group life. In part, they are why we live in society rather than apart.

  3. Living together also brings with it a set of challenges, related directly to the benefits:
    • Crime. Fellow group members threaten us (either physically, or our property). How do we protect ourselves?
    • Economy. The place in which we live become a locus of exchange. How do we make it one where we can thrive?
    • Poverty. Differences in how exchange takes place creates some who have too few resources. What do we do about people who have trouble surviving (poverty)?
    • Health. Proximity brings with it increased disease. We depend on others to care for us when vulnerable. How do we care for group members?
    • Education. Our young ones must acquire the norms and habits that we require of one another. How do we create citizens of our group?
    • Environment. The byproducts of life become concentrated (waste, extraction of resources). How can we manage this?

  4. These challenges are not problems to be solved, but conditions to be managed. The possible ways to address them are myriad, require collective actions, and there is not an objectively correct outcome.

  5. Any group of people living together in a place will face such challenges. These are the challenges that come with being a “community.”

  6. These problems, in varying degree, face everyone in the group. Everyone is therefore trying, in their own ways to address them. This is happening throughout the group, always.
One definition of community:
  • The places where, and collective means by which, such opportunities and challenges are collectively addressed.