The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

To lead or to follow, that is the real question

Yesterday I talked about something I called unit cohesiveness, which is really a response to a need by humans to form into groups. We do it naturally, it is so much a part of life that we don't think about it very much. Oh, your parents did when they warned you about hanging out with the "wrong crowd", of course. But, if you were like me, you sought out that "wrong crowd" because of that disapproval.

Tom, in his comment yesterday, offered that there are many of us who do not do much joining. I always have been a non-joiner [link]... except for my enlisting in the Navy back in my youth. I had compelling reasons to do so; I did not join in order to belong but to avoid being put in a herd I did not want to be in... the US Army. It was 1965 and I was a college dropout. He is right, of course, many of us resist that urge to herd. I think he may have overstated our numbers. We are a small part of the population, tiny in comparison. And even we gather into groups more times than we realize.

And let's be honest here, those of us who resist that urge see ourselves as potential leaders. Even though a lot of us shy away when offered the opportunity.

A number of years ago, I got involved in creating an organization of computer geeks who ran and/or used electronic bulletin boards... aka "BBSes". I didn't start out to do it but found myself caught up in it. I had an interest and that interest meant interacting with others. As my own BBS developed, I found reasons to "network" with other SysOps (System Operators, as we called ourselves) to share information about problems and solutions. We basically, re-purposed (as they now call it) a barely existing loose association SysOps into a group of SysOps and Users. And it grew.

I got involved without thinking about it too much. I was already chatting with Users of my BBS and with a few other SysOps whose boards I frequented. In those primitive days, graphics were quite limited and no one was posting pictures so if you wanted to see who looked like what, you had to meet them face to face. A few of us met, the idea of an organization seemed to form on its own. We took a barely existing group of SysOps and expanded eligibility to the Users to join. After all, we all had been users first ourselves.

I refrained from taking any leadership position in the beginning. I had few management or leadership skills then, still don't. But I got involved and found myself pushed into becoming vice-president (a very disappointing job as I learned it had nothing to do with vice) and later becoming president.

I learned the term "herding cats" was an apt metaphor. There's a dynamic that exists between group and leader; each feed the other. A leader must subtly control the group, he cannot simply dictate. At least, not until he gains full control. Even then, there are limits.

Finding myself in a leadership role, I became uncomfortable. Well, more uncomfortable than I had been than just being in a group. But I couldn't just walk away, no matter how badly I wanted to. Instead, I moved away. Literally. I took a job some 300 miles or so south of that town. It wasn't my intention to get out of the group that drove that transfer but membership in the group (and especially being president of it) was a favorable factor in my decision to accept the transfer.

I learned some things about myself and about group dynamics from that experience. Not good things, either.

Today, the largest groups I join are ad hoc ill-formed "leagues" of golfers. There is always someone willing to run the "league", someone who will finagle a discount group rate from a golf course or two and the larger the group, the greater the discount usually, and who is willing to keep track of handicaps and scheduling. But I am not that person. I occasionally get stuck with the job when one of those who run the two I am currently involved in goes out of town on a trip because I am reliable enough to show up more often than not. And I hate it. It is a lot of work and stress.

So appreciate the leader you follow but keep a wary eye on him or her. Anyone willing to put up with the herding of cats is capable of megalomania.

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