It sometimes appears to me that the modern American culture I’m part of is obsessed with “leadership.” There are “leadership” conferences, books, summits, seminars, workshops, bible-studies. I’ve attended a few of these, and I’ve benefited. Insights, and techniques were offered. Ideas, inspiration, and vision took root. And yet, I’m not even sure if the main thing is “leadership” or even what exactly “leadership” is.
My dad posted recently asking a question about what leadership means, and that’s really the reason I’m thinking about it, right now. As an advocate I am accustomed to looking for power being used to exploit and take advantage of people, and in some ways this makes many of the power differentials in the world look scary and dangerous. But I recognize that hierarchy is not all bad. We culturally decide to privilege the voices of those who are experienced and educated because we know we will all benefit from listening to them. We even instinctively give more weight to the voices of people who are eloquent and articulate, as opposed to the average communicator. And when we give someone more attention because we hope to learn from them, we are following and they are leading.
So I guess one of the first things that appears to be true about leaders is that they are teachers, who speak clearly and at least seem to know what they are talking about. They posses word power. To a large degree I think hierarchies are built on verbal power. Even getting things done is governed by the people who can organize and motivate people.
But I guess this is where I get back to wondering existentially about “leadership” as a goal. Gaining verbal power is comparatively easy, and not everyone who has it uses it well or wisely. If the ambition to leadership means mastering the art of communication to further your own agenda, that makes “leadership” seem cheap and overrated. On the other hand, another way of putting that, especially in light of the popularity of leadership training etc, is that we’re all trying to achieve verbal competence and exercise our agency in the world. And as long as we are respectful and take responsibly, I have to hope that will end up being a very good thing.