Experts & Leaders
I’ve always thought that to be a leader, you had to be an expert--that you have to know the most; have years of experience; be the loudest; the most outspoken--someone with all the answers. However, the mentorship of Professor Kevin Kesecks,
While enrolled in courses for the Civic Leadership minor at Portland State University I was surrounded with peers who seemed to embody all of these characteristics.
I used to think the best contribution I could make was organizing a Google Doc.
Yet here at the end of my undergraduate career I've realized that my knowledge of communication theory has allowed me to contribute to my communities in so many ways in which I didn’t even realize I was skilled. I’m so grateful for these lessons in leading and serving as they have helped me to realize that being an expert and being a leader are not the same thing.
When people consider leadership a job title fit only for politicians and the intellectually elite, democracy fundamentally weakens and progress towards true change diminishes.
Yet, the common theme which runs through the philosophy of some of the greatest scholars of leadership and community organizing is the importance of a communal-style leadership-- the belief that no one individual can be valued above the rest. This is true because everyone has unique skills, insights, connections, and ideas and the puzzle is not complete without every piece.
and in fact, my quiet, observant, yet compassionate nature lends itself well to empowering others, hearing voices that sometimes get overlooked. I finally understand how useful my skills and knowledge in communication are in terms of helping to organize big community projects; identifying problems before they happen, bridging gaps in communication, and assisting with group organizing dynamics. I’m not the loudest person in the room, I certainly don’t feel like an expert, and I definitely don’t know it all, but I think that’s precisely what makes me an invaluable asset and leader.
“We can stop looking for leadership as if it were scarce or lost, or it had to be trained into us by experts”
-(Block, Community, p.86.)
Block (2008) teaches us that anybody can be a leader, and Green, Moore and O’Brien, (2011) provide a detailed explanation of how one can while Barber, (2000) builds on this and goes a step further by illustrating exactly why it is so important for everybody to embrace their inner leader and act on the innate ability to lead instead of depending on the power of “official” or elected leadership.
Listening to the advice of these scholars positions us in a place where we will never run the risk of “fixing” instead of “serving” as Illich warns.
This is because the common theme here is that community leadership depends on listening. It depends on humbling yourself, being confident enough to lead and take action, and being strong enough to know when to stand back and pass the torch to others. We need to start thinking about leadership outside of the confines of its conventional roles.
Everyday leadership, Drew Dudley
Barber, B. R. (2000). A Passion for Democracy: American essays. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Block, P. (2008). Community: the Structure of Belonging. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
Green, M., Moore, H., & O'Brien, J. (2011). ABCD in Action: When People Care Enough to Act. Inclusion Press.
Illich, I., (n.d), To Hell With Good Intentions.