A Call to Lead? Put it on hold.

Nov 2, 2008 by

Loki sent around this thought-provoking article a few weeks ago, and it’s been nagging at me.

If you have reach that exceeds 10 people, then you can step up to lead. If you have reach that exceeds 100 people, then you may be asked to lead. If you have thousands who follow you and call you a leader whether or not you feel like one, then you must, here and now, accept that mantle of leadership. You must don the cape and boots even if you feel as though they were made for someone else.

Compare and contrast:

BRIAN: Look. You’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals!
FOLLOWERS: Yes, we’re all individuals!
BRIAN: You’re all different!
FOLLOWERS: Yes, we are all different!
BRIAN: You’ve all got to work it out for yourselves!
FOLLOWERS: Yes! We’ve got to work it out for ourselves!
BRIAN: Exactly!
FOLLOWERS: Tell us more!

Thrusting the mantle of leadership on someone who writes, or speaks out, or creates art, or otherwise voices an opinion, regardless of “whether or not you feel like one”, is a cop out. It’s the “tell us more” syndrome, stage managed by well-meaning Web 2.0 philosophers.

Leadership springs from those who want to lead, or from those who are forced by circumstance to lead. Telling someone that they are now a leader and must command their followers is a) craven, b) a great way to get a bad leader, and c) a sorrowful misunderstanding of the power of the internet.

Blogs, tweets, Facebook posts, are all publishing platforms: they provide a mechanism for the individual voice to be heard again after fifty years of mass media homogenization. They allow a single opinion to resonate; they allow individual voices to have the floor, albeit briefly. They allow — no, they demand — participation, and participation is action.

They also provide the greatest organizing tool since the telephone. From Howard Dean’s meetups to the Obama campaign’s unprecedented network of contributors and volunteers, the web has brought political action back from the dead and given several generations of Americans their first taste of participatory democracy — the first step in taking back control of their government.

No more leaders, not just yet. No more heroes, ever. And no more welshing on the promise: I’m not going to lead, I’m going to work. If I inspire you to work, even better. But don’t tell me I’m a leader and then tell me what to do. Why the fuck don’t you lead for a while and quit whispering in my ear?

Besides, this is a network, remember? The premise is that we are equal on the web, we can raise our own voices and argue with others. If I have readers — not followers, in that crafty little psychological play on words i saw you pull there — then they likely have blogs and I read them and they all read each other and if we all start trying to lead we’re going to end up doing what liberal/lefties always do and form committees and have rules and everyone gets a chance to speak and ^%&!(@*#%^$*&)[email protected]$&Y NOTHING GETS DONE.

Leaders are hierarchical, by definition. Nothing wrong with hierarchies, but the web is not so. Deal.

Direct them towards a mission, towards a goal, towards something that provides tangible benefit so that they can get the ball rolling in their homes, neighborhoods, and communities. Give your followers missions and tasks towards the goal you are united for, and you will help them to realign themselves away from chaos and panic towards growth, progress, and even prosperity. Ask them to give and give double what they do. Lead through example.

Gosh it’s pretty to think so.

I love this “followers” business. Who has followers? I have readers, of would if I bothered to keep up a regular posting schedule. If I thought I had followers I’d be driving around in a mosquito control truck. Shoo! Shoo!

Give my followers missions and tasks? That’s not leading; that’s delegating. Who am I (or who are you) to decide what “missions” and tasks are necessary for our common goal? The community decides what the community needs; leadership emerges from the community, not by fiat.

And I refuse to accept that the community (not “my followers” — Tigga please) will be enmeshed in chaos and panic unless I tell them where to go and what to do. This is old thinking, pre-web thinking, the kind that we know for a dead solid fact DOESN’T WORK ANY MORE.

Let’s talk about New Orleans for a moment. The NOLA blogging community is one of the strongest in the nation, politically active and politically effective — you don’t get your city’s AG to show up at your party unless you have a little gravitas — but I don’t think there’s a one of these people, and I dearly love them all, but there isn’t one who I would take orders from. Maybe Karen.

I’ll listen to them all; I’ll take what they say very seriously. If someone pipes up with a need, I’ll try to help them out. And we all do the same. But there is no leader; there have been a couple of occasions where someone tried to to assume the position and get us all in line. It didn’t work. If anything, the NOLA blogswarm itself is a leader, if only through its example of community involvement and hands-on activism.

I have stated for years — literally years — that the whole point behind Suspect Device was to snap the citizens of Louisiana out of their hallucinatory belief that government is entertainment and to get them to take back control. It took a disaster to kickstart that process, but it has finally started.

New Orleans — and the rest of the state — has a pressing need for actors; not followers, not leaders (although god knows we could stand a few of those too), but people who will get up and go downtown and say NO. Who will talk to their neighbors, call their congresspeople, grab the mic at the city commission meetings and not let go until they’ve had their say. We need workers, fighters, activists — we need CITIZENS with all that the word implies, all that it has lost over generations of apathy.

Don’t listen to the whispering voices in your ear telling you you’re a leader with followers who await your instructions. Listen to the voice screaming in your face to get off your ass and get to work. Lead by example? I can live with that.

Like Captain America says:

Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world – “No — you move.”

YOU stand up and say that. YOU. And ME. Don’t tell someone else it’s their job — that’s what Captain America is here to do.

Don’t let it go to your head.

Despair thrives in confusion and inaction.
Despair withers under the heat and light of passion.
Despair dies in the face of confident leadership.

Oooo sorry. Despair dies in the face of COMPETENT leadership. Confidence without competence got us where we are today. That’s why I think leaders are less important right now that workers. If you want to lead, I suggest you sit down and think about it for a good long time. Incompetent leaders will be removed, ground up, and used to feed the horses.

I’m not trying to lead; I’m trying to foment rebellion. I’m trying to start a stampede. I’d like to see the people of this city and state and country swarm the houses of government and surround the lobbyists and businessmen like white blood cells attacking and destroying a virus. I don’t want a full scale revolution, but I sure as hell want the shitheels and thieves and liars we run out of town to think they’ve been through one.

If you’ve been called to lead, you’ll know. If a blog post tells you you’ve been called to lead, you haven’t. I’m calling on you not to lead, not to follow, but to work. To vote. To hold accountable those for whom you vote. To attend public meetings. To march. To protest. To call in when you hear lies being spread and to counter them. To petition for a redress of grievances. To join and fight stand up and say “No — you move” to those unaccustomed to hearing backtalk. To take it all back.


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