The Dangers of Leadership

I was recently asked to be one of the 2011 cohort of ASCD Conference Scholars. I’ll be occasionally cross-posting blog posts that I write for that here. The following is a leadership reflection I was asked to complete to accompany my bio for the site. I have to be honest that leadership is not something I feel particularly starry-eyed about. Being a good leader is often painfully hard work, and I’m deeply suspicious of peppy, motivational leadership materials. I’m interested to see whether the experience changes some of my ideas about leadership.

What’s the greatest obstacle you face as a leader?

My aversion to the word leader is one of the greatest obstacles I face as a leader. I am skeptical of leadership because of the ways in which power can corrupt, distort, and remove one from the work he or she enjoys. However, I believe there are ways to combat the potential traps of leadership. As a leader, continuing to do some of the work that led you to a position of leadership, whether that’s doing the dishes or teaching a class or weeding a garden, is important for feeling a sense of connection with those you lead and the work they do. In addition, the willingness to be honest about the difficulty of leadership and the mistakes that you make along the way not only instills trust, but also counteracts the tendency of power to corrupt. Continued contact with the work you did before you were a leader and transparency may not give you an edge on others, but I think they can keep you from becoming a leader you wouldn’t want to follow.

I was also asked to submit an article about leadership. I originally sent in this article from the WSJ about the corrupting influence of power, but I re-read the prompt and saw that it asked for an article that inspired me. Given that, I sent this Parker Palmer article instead. It still touches on the way power can be misused, but is a bit more hopeful and practical.

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