Lots of people want to be an author, with a published book on the shelves and press attention for themselves.
Many fewer people actually want to be writers, staring at a blank computer screen and having to fill it up with insightful and moving words, then structuring those words into products that can be marketed with benefits to people at all levels, from booksellers to publishers and so on.
People want to have written and published, not to do the hard work.
It seems to me that this is also true of leaders.
Lots of people want to be seen as a leader, to be in a position to tell other people what to do, to have the respect and authority that comes with leadership. They want to speak for the group.
Many fewer people actually want to be leaders, trying to find consensus and motivate others to pull together to achieve shared goals and dreams, dealing with the messy, messy truth that every human comes with their own set of challenges, and when put together, these challenges interact in very challenging ways.
I went to a local LGBT business mixer last night. I couldn’t really connect with the femme women I want to pal with, and the gay guys are doing their own thing. That left me with the transpeople. There was a transwoman who told me she bought her first wig at Montgomery Wards. There was an academic transman who had never heard of transsexual separatists. And there was the genderqueer transperson who wants to lead a local activist group.
I told stories, but ended up getting challenged for an possible breach of political correctness. I needed to be stopped the moment it appeared that I might be ranking oppressions, a sin in the world of Women’s Studies where class-based oppression is always, always the theme.
This is the person who, in the first meeting of the coalition, was very, very interested in media training. They want to speak for the trans community, but they don’t want to listen to other transpeople and create inclusive language. Rather, they want others to participate under their own rubric.
How do you explain to someone who wants to be seen as a leader while clinging to their own mindset that leadership either has to be compelling or inclusive? That you either have to be so appealing that people want to line up behind you, or you have to speak in a way that makes others feel that you speak well for them? That leadership, in the end, requires service to a group, not just declaring your own superiority?
Just telling people where they are “wrong” isn’t really engaging. Re-Education may have worked for Stalin, but it took a lot of coercion.
To lead, you have to give people a reason to move their position and come to a shared one, and then to work to create that position in the world.
The easiest way feel superior is to just dismiss anyone who doesn’t agree with you as wrong. And for transpeople, who need to have a strong belief system to justify their non-normative choices in the world, dismissing others, trying to remove their standing to challenge you, is the easy position.
Sadly, though, it’s not the leadership position. To lead, you need power, the power to get others to agree with you and work towards your shared goals. Get them on your side, or get them to a place where your side and their side are the same side. Make them feel empowered, make them feel like investing in you is investing in themselves.
It might seem like a good thing to be king, but to be the leader, you actually have to deliver the goods.
And that is the hard part.