07 October 2010

Teasing Out Leadership

Every time I tell the mystery story about my becoming leader of a small subgroup of the Landmark Seminar I'm attending and I say "So, somehow, I became the Group leader,"

the response is the same: a chuckle and something along the lines of "Oh, Alex. 'Somehow'? I'm not surprised at all that you would be leader in any group you're part of."

The comment only deepens the mystery surrounding this development in my life.

Yes, I often present as articulate and strong and smart and willing. And, yes, I'm a good listener. And, yes, I have pretty good "big picture" visual acuity plus good "heart of the matter" visual acuity. All of these traits would be good to find in a leader. I've seen these traits in the leaders I respect and admire.

But I generally resist stepping into a leadership position when I find myself in situations where leadership is sorely needed. It happens a lot.

For one thing, groups generally have some work they're about. The thought of shepherding diverse personalities through a creative process is daunting. I think about everything I've learned about "dealing" with people over the years, all the rules and guidelines gleaned from my upbringing and therapy and human development classes/workshops I've attended and granola/new age/cosmic literature I've read.

"I" statements. Asking rather than telling. Listening without judgment. Time management. "Handling" difficult people. Holding the space. Making sure all voices have a chance to be heard. Supporting and encouraging each individual member for the good of the whole. Maintaining an attitude of service. Patience.

A lot to remember. A lot of lines to memorize.

Willingly pledging to lead while keeping all of these guidelines in mind has always looked to me like becoming someone else, becoming someone other than who I believe myself to be. A role taken on, a full suit of clothing donned. I have believed the grumbling, critical, resigned, hopeless outsider "racket" that typically started up in me whenever I found myself in a leader-less group, was the "real" me. All that patience and holding space and "I" statements crap was some stuff I knew about but not a description of the "real" me.

As the current essential transformation continues to play out in my life, almost everything looks different.

My becoming Group Leader isn't such a spooky and mysterious development.

I played the scene over again in my head this morning (as I have frequently over the last two weeks): Five people sat down in a small circle of chairs with the assignment to "choose a leader." No one said anything but the five of us looked at each other. Finally L______ said something like "Is anyone interested in being Leader?" and I said "Well, I'm interested," meaning Leadership as a phenom has interested me for most of my life.

"Good," she replied. "You can be leader." And so it was done.

Like I said, usually I resist and avoid leadership. I mean that both ways: I question authority and, although I will voice an opinion and claim authority in an isolated instance, I resist that position as a formalized, ongoing arrangement.

The difference this time is the context. This instance occurs in the framework of an educational system in which I've enrolled. The act of leading and my thoughts about it are highly relevant, experiential components of this system.

And I'm not doing it alone. I am neither leading nor exploring leadership alone. It is not a question of me being too "intense" or "deep" or "serious" about something. Intense depth (and expansiveness) is expected here; everybody in Landmark is ostensibly about intense, pervasive transformation.

Five people gathered and one person was interested in leading. A simple process of elimination, in a way. A logical and fitting development.

And, already, the flotsam and jetsam of our personalities have begun to litter the water and bump the sides of our little boat. This time, though, rather than analyzing the psychology and neuroses of group members, my focus is on what we have come together to do. The things I say, how and when I say them, and the how-when-what of the group members' statements and actions are important relative to how they serve or obstruct the work at hand.

We're meeting as a complete group for the first time this coming Monday. I invited the group to come to my house, a house that doesn't actually belong to me...a place that mostly feels like a situation where I'm avoiding and resisting taking leadership.

Which is not relevant to the work of the group.

I'll serve tea.

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