Whether politics, community, work, or relationships, we are all looking for leadership. Inspiration. Action. Remedy. Intangible reasons for looking forward, and tangible possibility that tomorrow can be better than today because we ‘have the right people’. A supposably superior being who will make all things good, right, and working as we all imagine it should be.
Except that magical person doesn’t exist (although many try to stake that claim) because our definition of what leadership is, is rooted in biased individual values and prejudice. One person’s leader, is another person’s despot.
Humans are complicated combination locks, demanding others to understand us while we fail to understand ourselves.
We are meaning-making machines, and in our creative expression, we seek to organize ourselves and others into groups of ‘for’ and ‘against’. Our ideas and narratives are therefore constantly moving targets fueled by rules and stories about what is good, bad, right, wrong, real, and false. Without sides, scoring or ranking, it seems impossible for variation to exist and to be equally valuable.
We get so caught up fighting for our position at the table, that we fail to see that winter is coming and soon we stand to lose the lot.
I’m at a point in my life/career where I am faced with an incredible opportunity to transform and activate the lives of millions of people, and yet the ‘conversation’ occurs to me that it’s almost always about what others need to do, as opposed to what they as individuals can do.
Subsequently, I experience very high levels of resignation, helplessness, and fear-based action in my work which then perpetuates the vicious cycle of people being ineffective and feeling powerless. Everyone has their finger pointed elsewhere, and are intelligent enough to use words powerfully to justify their accusations, all the while forfeiting their responsibility to the situation.
They can’t see their own blind spots. They act confused, afraid, and frustrated. Not because they want to be, but because they have become so good at being this way, it’s all they know that is possible. They’ve lost sight that they have the choice to choose differently, and situations are seen as problems to fix or change, rather than as opportunities to invent and create something new. Other people are viewed as in the way, rather than on the way, and a choice is then made to divide and conquer, rather than create, inspire and transform.
It’s much easier to smash things and pick up the pieces than to painstakingly imagine, create, shape, and nurture. One requires emotional outburst and creating noise disguised as work, the other requires discipline, patience, and determination.
When faced with myriad personalities, I force myself to stop and listen harder. To catch myself when judging others, to shelve my desire to be right, and instead absorb the humanity of the person in front of me. It’s with this space to listen that I almost always see them fully. Their fears, their hopes, their skill, and their noise. Their nakedness. I try to search for what drives them instead of what doesn’t agree with me.
I haven’t met a person yet who didn’t want to have a great life, but wasn’t also afraid of something or held doubts about themselves. Everyone I’ve ever met wanted to make someone proud, to feel happy, to enjoy what life has to offer, and to be respected and effective amongst their peers and in their community. They wanted to be loved, wanted to contribute in a valuable way, and wanted to have enough room to explore the world in their own way.
Regardless of how they go about it, their desire to live a powerful and meaningful life is exactly the same. No-one wakes up wanting to have a shit day, to feel helpless, to be forgotten, or to fail. All that differs is what they think they must do in order to fulfill upon what they value.
And yet, the distinction that gets quickly dismissed by fully grown adults is that ‘things are the way they are, because we choose them to be.’ Instead, this thinking is seen as a platitude grounded in mystical woo-woo, while the ‘real reality’ is struggle, pain, and torture.
When you realise just how many people feel trapped and stuck by this thinking, that’s when you can fathom the scope of our communal psychology and the results it creates.
Culture starts as individuals, who then form groups, who then build communities, and then shape societies with rules, habits, and beliefs. While it may seem like the world is death by a million paper cuts – seemingly unimportant little tiny strokes – at some point a ‘last’ paper cut occurs before everything erupts.
Our words, actions, thoughts, beliefs, and activities are tiny paper cuts. We are all complicit by what we perpetuate, what we judge by, what we share, what we don’t share, and what we justify. There is no black and white, only shades of grey. The nuance is the meaning.
I believe it’s possible for people to feel comfortable and confident enough to step back, to think some more, to re-evaluate, to consider something new, to try something different, and to allow different modalities to co-exist in the company of their own.
I believe it’s possible that people can become present to the concept of choice in order to take full ownership of who they choose to be rather than feel helpless of all the things seemingly imposed on them.
To do that however requires a willingness to invent instead of blaming in order to destroy. It demands that we see every breakdown as an opportunity to transform instead of something to fix with bandaids and mud.
It requires people being willing to grow. To give less answers and ask more thoughtful questions. To try. To try again without the resentment of past failures. To not give up so easily. To want it so badly that we don’t look to others as saviors and saving graces, but to be the very leaders we demand of others.
We are all leading even when we choose to follow.