These past few months I've encountered situations where I see individuals in leadership roles abuse their power. In one instance, I essentially stepped into a hornet's nest. A friend who also had the misfortune to get involved in that particular situation described it as "evil." Unfortunately, I cannot disagree with her. Fortunately, we are no longer involved with that particular group and its leaders.
In addition, on several occasions, I have found myself in very different settings, hearing leaders share misinformation on subjects about which I either had personal knowledge or had thoroughly researched the topic. Because they wished something to be true, they declared it to be so rather than taking the time to understand the topic or situation and risking the possibility that they were wrong. However, because the individuals exposing their lack of knowledge were in positions of authority, they could not be refuted. In fact, when challenged, I've seen leaders throw what I would describe as "tantrums." And their "followers," who often weren't themselves educated on the topics, took the misinformation as absolute truth.
Over the summer, when I attended the Wild Goose Festival, I sat in on a session where Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber discussed authority. If my memory serves me correctly, she confirmed that, as a pastor, her position did not convey authority, but that it was the people in her congregation from whom she derived her authority. Should she do something the congregation disagreed with, her "a** was out of there." (She's a very colorful speaker.)
Leadership and authority are complex concepts which I plan to explore more fully. However, in light of my experiences this year, I will share a few observations.
- Those in authority do not inherently have power; it is given to them and can be taken away.
- Leaders should admit when they do not know or understand something. Discussing a topic about which they lack knowledge makes them look ignorant and undermines their authority. Educated people recognize propaganda.
- Being right does not make one a good leader. Willingness to listen and to compromise does.
- Those in authority must be extremely aware that power corrupts. Power often insulates one from others and can lead to poor judgment.
- Leaders must be exemplars, that is, they must practice what they preach. This is difficult (and sometimes impossible) and that is one reason why I disagree with having positions of authority.
I am far from perfect and make many mistakes on a daily basis. However, I also do not hold myself up as a leader or as a person with authority. Instead, I try to associate myself with groups of like-minded people who are focused on problem solving and bettering the world in which we live by engaging in healthy discussion and debate.