One Does Not Simply “Lead”

In a series on a lack of leadership in Sioux Falls, an introduction

Although raised in South Dakota, I wasn’t born here, and I’ve so far made every effort to avoid living most of my adult life here, though the past few years have seen some epic failures of esca…er, I mean, return to Minnesota. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll just be blunt: I don’t like Sioux Falls. I do not enjoy living here. I do not feel like a part of the community. And I don’t really feel bad for saying so, because it seems as though the feeling is pretty mutual. Of course, part of this is my fault for not engaging the community — I’m capable of admitting when I’m wrong, after all — however, I’ve noticed that this is a cyclical issue for me, and that the environment of Sioux Falls seems to service only a re-enforcement of my own self-imposed balk against social advancements and expeditions. Besides, all there is to do here after dark is drink.

But Sioux Falls is beautiful! Well, a lot of it is, anyway. It’s a nicely-sized town (until you take the car for a drive), and it’s a pretty modern town (as long as you don’t need to take the bus). And actually, most of the people I’ve encountered are great. Most of those people, though, haven’t been the type of people I’ve necessarily been trying to meet. They’re my people — lower income, young, chill — it’s not that I don’t like the people I’ve met who are in my class. It’s just that I’m trying to grow out of my class, and Sioux Falls isn’t a great place for someone like me to grow up — to “be an adult”.

And I feel the need to be clear: I don’t dislike the people I know. They are some of the most honest, straightforward and pleasant people I have ever met. They’re smart, witty, fun and funny; they are tolerant and accepting, they are kindhearted and good people. It’s just that no one with influence takes these people seriously, and all I want is to be taken seriously… while making funny faces.

It would be easy, of course, to dismiss such things as the “personal problem” of being awkward or introverted or the smelly kid, or whatever. And I’m probably all of those things, but it’s never prevented me from getting along, finding friends, gaining respect, or carving out some semblance of a life for myself. And never have my personal preferences for interaction been a barrier to my ability to obtain gainful employment. A single mother who makes $10/hr and has student loans to pay back for a completed degree does not have a “single income” problem. That’s a problem of being undervalued, whether it’s for one reason or another, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, and whether it’s intentional or not. For a very long time, though, I kept wondering what was wrong with me; what had I missed about myself that seemed to be such a turn-off to the people I met in Sioux Falls?

Well, it’s taken me a few sad, arduous years, but the longer I’ve stayed here (completely of my own volition and not at all force by the economic poverty in which I now find myself once again dejectedly wading; end sarcasm) the clearer the problem’s become: Sioux Falls lacks leadership.

Now, I could say that Sioux Falls lacks diversity in its leadership — because that is also painfully and unequivocally true — but it would really just be a different way to say the same thing, wouldn’t it? Sioux Falls lacks leadership, because if Sioux Falls had leadership, its leadership would better reflect the community at large. Sioux Falls lacks leadership because it seems completely unaware of how unequal the opportunities are in this city, or at least unaware of how to solve that problem; perhaps even unmotivated or unwilling. Sioux Falls lacks leadership because it wants the notoriety of being a “big kid” town, but it takes little more than tepid baby steps toward building the fundamental aspects of what makes a big community successful. Sioux Falls is, by far, the most diverse community I’ve ever found myself in, and that might not even apply to just the Midwest — Minneapolis doesn’t even come close, if you can believe it. Though while Sioux Falls has a breadth of diversity and culture, it’s not very deep, and that’s because Sioux Falls lacks leadership.

Sioux Falls doesn’t lack “good” leadership, either; that would be redundant. Leaders only can be good, because only leaders have followers. Dictators don’t have followers. Oligarchies do not have followers. People only follow what they chose, otherwise they’re not truly following. Prisoners are not followers. The ostracized cannot be said to be following, even if they’d like to be. Those who are incapable of sound critical thinking are, too, not really following anything or anyone. In order to make a choice, one must be informed. Without proper information, a follower is little more than a drone. Or, to quote John Perkins from his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, “If voters were ignorant of their leaders’ most important tools, could a nation claim to be a democracy?”

So, it is not a question of motive or direction which defines a leader as either “good” or “bad”, since the existence of each depends on the validity of the other, and there are no “bad” leaders. There is only a lack of leadership.

Through a series of writings (not all to be published on Medium), I’m going to explore what a lack of leadership ends up meaning for people like me: The immediate affects of not fitting in, the numerous ways in which a lack of leadership negatively impacts a community at the individual level, and the ways in which certain perceptions and their effects compile and combine to become self-fulfilling barriers to improvement and eventually even gainful employment. It is easy to look at the poor and the broken and the depressed and even the alcoholic and say, “Well, you’re not trying”, while missing even the remote possibility that perhaps this person simply stopped trying, because it became far too difficult to keep fighting the constant rejection of not being welcomed to “fit in” to a community. If fact, I think any homeless vet could tell you as much, if you took a moment to speak with one instead of simply putting magnets on your car for “support”.

This may not be a pleasant experience for everyone. The truth might be a little ugly and hard to look at. And being “nice” really hasn’t gotten me anywhere in the recent past, so there’s probably not going to be a whole lot of that going on, either. I’ll be honest, though, you can be promised of that. I’ll remain open-minded. I’ll be empathetic and well-rounded in my approach. Punches, however, I will not be pulling. Great leadership is easy to spot, but it’s even more noticeable when it’s not present, and for the first time in three years, I have absolutely zero qualms about pointing out the gap. Loudly. And in public.

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