Each leader has a unique combination of leadership qualities. Skills may come from education or experience—ideally both, but don’t overlook someone who can do the job just because they only have one or the other. Different roles also call for different traits and skills. However, some things are essential for most or all leaders in community.
Determination — A leader provides the energy and focus to get people moving and keep them on track.
Competence — This includes not just the ability to do things correctly but the self-confidence to do so smoothly, in a way that reassures other people they’re in good hands.
Patience — Effective leaders allow for calm handling of delays and difficulties, as well as teaching people.
Honor — People can look up to a leader who is worthy of their respect and who behaves with integrity.
Vision — A leader illuminates a path from where we are to where we want to be, and inspires people to follow it even through the rough spots.
A sense of humor — This eases tensions, fosters connection, and discourages harmful forms of pride.
Communication — Necessary for most community functions, this is a fundamental ability to gather information, guide meetings, talk people into doing things, and mend misunderstandings.
Problem-solving — A good leader can recognize signs of trouble, identify the source, and take steps to fix it.
Resource management — This entails fundraising, gathering tools and supplies, finding volunteers, and using them efficiently to meet established goals.
A well-calibrated bullshit detector — A leader must be alert when people are trying to deceive her…or themselves.
Leadership is not one skill but many. People sometimes learn the obvious ones but overlook more subtle aspects. Here are some useful techniques for community leadership:
+ Learn what your neighbors do well. When assembling a team for a project, connect each task with a person who has relevant expertise.
+ Find the work that needs to be done and take care of it. You know how people are always saying, “Somebody should do something about that”? Be “Somebody.”
+ Always pad your budget and your timeframe. Things will go wrong; it’s your job to make sure the problems get buffered, so they don’t make matters worse.
+ Watch for members whose skills are growing. Cheer for their progress. Offer them more responsibility.
+ Watch for burnout. Be prepared to reduce or change someone’s tasks (including yours) to avoid this.
+ Observe body language. If folks are leaning forward and nodding, you’re on the right track. If they’re fidgeting, it may be time to stop talking and switch to something else, like physical activities.
The intentional community movement offers numerous models of leadership. Some communities have one leader, or a small group of leaders. Some try to avoid the temptation of putting anyone in charge, instead sharing responsibility equally. How does your community assign (or withdraw) authority? Who organizes things, and why? What do members expect of the person(s) in charge? What do the leaders get, and what do they give? How well does your system work for you? Discussing these and related topics can help a community fine-tune their leadership structure so that it works for everyone.
Several friends gather to disassemble a fallen tree. A chainsaw growls in the background as we work on breaking up the smaller twigs and branches for kindling. Sometimes I help hold the bigger branches to be cut by handsaw or chainsaw. Upon request I fetch and carry gloves, earplugs, and water bottles. Later, I retire early to the house and start supper for the team.
People often discuss leadership without ever touching on followship. Followers are as essential as leaders, because leaders can’t lead if nobody follows. Similarly, if the leaders outnumber the followers, nothing gets done because of too many arguments over who’s in charge. Ideally, people have both leadership and followship skills so that they can switch roles.
Good followers enable leaders to accomplish great things. The leader supplies the direction, and the followers provide the motile power. Bad followers don’t provide enough power, or pull in different directions, or support wretched ideas as well as good ideas. So a leader really depends on having good followers. Many communities teach and reward that kind of teamwork, which helps expand our skills.
Qualities of a Good Follower
Leaders and followers share some of the same virtues, while others differ. A follower’s qualities should complement those of a leader. Not all followers necessarily show all of these qualities, and there are other qualities, but these can help identify people with followship potential.
Humility — A humble follower helps leaders relax, because they don’t have to worry about that person trying to take over their position. The modern mainstream culture pushes success to excess, often pressuring people to “get ahead” and “be a star” even if they hate being the center of attention or being in charge. Humility means deriving contentment from who you are and what you do without feeling compelled to reach for the pinnacle. Not everyone is, can be, or should be a leader. If people’s personality, skills, and desires suit them to be followers, they should take satisfaction in that. Explore until they find a level and area of responsibility that feels comfortable.
Loyalty — Loyal followers support a chosen cause or leader through good times and bad times. They stick around when others leave, and won’t switch sides as long as the cause is just or the leader honorable. This helps minimize turnover, which can strain communities.
Honesty — The best followers display excellent communication skills. They speak the truth gently if possible, firmly if necessary. They give an honest opinion of ideas and people.
Integrity — Good followers can be trusted to carry large sums of money or use equipment responsibly. They will keep an embarrassing secret, but not one that could harm innocents. They carry out honorable instructions in honorable ways; they won’t lie, steal, or cheat to accomplish goals.
Reliability — This means getting things done right, on time. Be organized. Only promise what can be delivered, and always deliver it. If necessary, find a substitute to cover responsibilities.
Utility — The most useful followers are competent, confident, and good at diverse skills. They avoid false modesty and their community knows what they do well.
Flexibility — An effective follower finds ways to make things work. Be willing to implement whatever is assigned. Be prepared; expect the unexpected. Adapt to changing circumstances.
Synergy — This precious ability enables a follower to combine the available people and resources to best effect, creating a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. The synergist may be an expert team builder or ceremony coordinator, unifying what the leader provides.
Like leadership, followship spans a variety of skills and methods. By learning and teaching these, we can expand the pool of good followers in community. Here are some things you can do as a follower.
+ Support your leader’s ideas. Voice agreement; also use body language by nodding or leaning forward. Speak well of your leader to others.
+ Accept direction from your leader. When asked to do something reasonable, do it without hesitation. This helps avoid the awkward scenario caused by everyone waiting for someone else to move first.
+ When volunteers are requested and your skills match, step forward. Volunteering strengthens community bonds.
+ Ask the right questions. If you don’t understand what is needed, seek to clarify the needs and processes. If a proposal is under discussion, ask questions to reveal its strengths and weaknesses….
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