Brief Comments on Leadership

This week, I received Maxims #41, ὕβριν μίσει, and #132, θνῇσκε ὑπὲρ πατρίδος, in my weekly oracle. Hate hubris. Die for your fatherland. I’ve been reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and I started to take in what he said about tempers and self-moderation, specifically anger and leadership, while walking into work on Monday. Here’s the result of all of that thinking.

Basic Principles

  • One’s conduct matters in public.
  • People who have taken on leadership and coordination responsibilities need to manage their conduct more than others.
  • People are fascinated by leadership due to its power and underestimate how much work the responsibilities will take.
  • Leaders need to be skilled at emotional labor, conflict resolution, and other techniques to create concord and harmony.
  • Anyone who takes on leadership responsibilities needs trusted private persons that le can vent to who are disconnected from the situation enough to be a safe outlet.

No, I’m Not A Leader.

When I started college in 2005, I went to a leadership pre-orientation. Leadership did not fit into my self-image. The facilitators expected that we had chosen it voluntarily. In fact, it was the one of the only ones at the college that still had seats. Most of the young women in the room already knew what they wanted to do and were very driven. They had images of themselves as CEOs, representatives, nonprofit execs, and the like. I was still reeling from being bullied in high school. It would take me years to come into a stable sense of self, let alone develop the skills and discernment I needed, and all of the people around me already had that out the gate.

My second leadership training came when I became a co-chair of the Association of Smith Pagans. It was practical because we had to know how to run campus orgs. I finished school and entered the workplace at 25; seven and a half years later, I have had more HR-driven leadership trainings than I can count on one hand, including one that could only be taken with supervisor recommendation about how to be a good manager.

A side effect of all of this is that I have taken leadership very seriously my entire adult life. Back when I was on the old KALLISTI (and maybe in my early 20s?), someone on another blog called me a young leader, and I was like, “Oh my fucking word, absolutely not,” because it takes more skills than blogging to do that effectively.

I went from being very against the idea of being a leader to being on the fence about it. In my mid-20s, I would have said no because I am opinionated, and people hate that. In my late 20s, it was due to lack of experience. In my early 30s, while I do not consider myself a leader, I have noticed that there are practical needs in the community, and I think I’m well-positioned to do some educational, non-leader-y things on this blog. Maybe those maxims are trying to get me to lift up the weight rather than stare at it grimacing.

What Is Good Leadership?

People are fascinated by leadership. They want to feel in charge of something, and they want honors — initiations, positions of authority with respect to some God or other, an assured and stable social position within their ingroups, and to hold authority. They see the beauty of the snake without understanding that it has venom and must be handled with care.

In thinking about leadership, let me be clear that I’m talking about it in a broad sense — people who run orgs; those who manage fora on Facebook, Reddit, and the like; and members of our community who have some kind of officiant status. Blogging is in a gray area because, while blogs disseminate information and are good at educating people when done well, most are not communities.

An ideal leader is the directing force behind the energy, enthusiasm, and willpower of a group — it requires significant self-sacrifice, the ability to handle criticism, and a truly astonishing power to mange one’s emotions so they don’t undermine the group’s cohesiveness and goals.

To return to what I said about Aristotle at the beginning, I think that managing anger is one of the endless struggles of the human condition. It can bind people together, in the case of anger at a common injustice, or tear a community apart, in the case of what is happening now in the USA and other countries with psyops using social media to target susceptible people with fear-based advertising to achieve social dissolution. For example, in all situations, I’ve noticed an increasing tendency for people to assume the worst of one another, and it’s hard to address that mistaken belief directly because calming down people who are truly afraid is about as simple as scaling a cliff.

Social media encourages us to process emotions in public — and loudly — and people notice and reward excessive conduct with likes, comments, and retweets. Even back before social media when more were on platforms like LiveJournal and Xanga, people would say things like, I’d write about things that actually matter, like cultus and the Gods, but people comment on and look at my controversial posts and rants much more, what’s with that? So people write controversy and angry rants because they like social validation and feeling vindicated — not because they’re bad people, but because dopamine hits truly do change human behavior. Casinos are feeling really cheated right now by social media giants stealing all of their tricks.

There is also a sunk cost fallacy involved. People who become angry and who have an altercation with someone, or a group of people, have invested emotional energy into the negative interaction. There are many cases in which it is actually better to bite the bullet and heal a relationship, but many do not. Maybe they feel sheepish, embarrassed, or just plain don’t understand that they could stop at any time. Inertia can be a dreadful thing.

Over the past few years, I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid expressing very emotionally charged sentiments in public places online. It can be hard in stressful interactions, especially when I know someone is wrong, to respond diplomatically.

Instantaneous communication makes this even harder — we say things that we shouldn’t at times we shouldn’t, and instead of having physical barriers like mailboxes and editors to prevent the words from getting out, throttling our less-than-perfect impulses is only as good as one’s self-control and the complexity of barriers to hit “publish/post.” Within a community setting, it is lethal for a leader’s credibility when anger or other spontaneous actions circumvent community standards and agreed-upon norms, like watching law enforcement run stop signs without a clear emergency reason. People who notice abuses of power will then know that the leaders are not holding themselves to the same standards as the community they serve.

Good leadership requires a person to build up a fortress around ler emotions and selfish desires and to learn how to use and vent them appropriately. It calls for doing emotional labor for people even when it is inconvenient to oneself. It demands knowing how to do hospitality, and it requires soft power.

Soft Power

Soft power is something that the polytheistic community could invest more in. Athênê rules over it alongside Hermês, Aphroditê, and the Hôrai, depending on context. In conflict, soft power is a weapon made out of words, patience, strategy, and tact, and it relies on social awareness — knowing community needs and weaknesses, being able to step outside of oneself, and having a positive vision forward that transcends each negative interaction. In peace, soft power is the glue that binds together groups and keeps them working on common goals.

My positive vision here, for example, is very much centered around the Gods. I think that communicating the agency we each have and the empowerment we receive through acknowledging and participating in the divine hierarchy is liberating, so in soft-power interactions, or even when I’m just trying to educate others, I will focus on that. The wind blusters, and the traveler pulls the cloak tighter. The Sun persuades by illuminating with warmth, and the traveler removes the cloak from ler shoulders. This is probably why I remember so few specific negative interactions with archetype-lovers or atheists in the past 10 years; sometimes, I do wonder if I have built a mental Apamean retreat.

My final takeaway is really this — effective leaders need to have significant self-knowledge, and they need plans for how to deal with their own human flaws, quirks, and emotions — the good and the bad. They need to develop vision, direction, and soft power, and they need to know how to triage awful ambient bullshit into a coherent path through the wilds. Most of us struggle with these things, so we are not alone, and yet we need to overcome the worst of the barriers in order to get done what needs to be done.


2 thoughts on “Brief Comments on Leadership

    1. And the fact that you don’t want to be a leader makes you eminently qualified to be one. You wouldn’t be doing it for an ego trip, but to serve the community.

      It’s possible to be a leader to empower and enable others, and to create safe space. It’s hard to do that in some ways, because that isn’t society’s expectation of what a leader does (the only model we see of it is teachers and nurses and librarians, who we tend to put in a different category).

      I have written fairly extensively about leadership and group dynamics in my book “The Night Journey” but you managed to cover an aspect of it that I didn’t. Great job.

      Liked by 1 person

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