The Charismatic Leader Concept is Dead
Our propensity to think one leader will save us continues to disappoint us
I cast my ballot.
And had no expectations.
I was at work when I found out that it was official — Barack Hussein Obama would be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America — the first Black President. I grabbed my camera and headed to Times Square to tape the spontaneous celebrations that were taking place.
Obama had captured the imagination of the American people and I froze at that inauguration along side the 1.4 million people in attendance It was like a multi-cultural Million Man March and family reunion rolled up in one. Obama had been elected due to the efforts of the millions that were there.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away, a man that most of those millions never heard of, Frank Lutz, had organized a dinner with a dozen Republicans and came up with a plan to block each and every thing that President Obama proposed to do.
“The only way we’ll succeed is if we’re united,” (Paul) Ryan told the others. “If we tear ourselves apart, we’re finished.” But, he added, he liked what he was hearing now. Everyone at the table sounded like a genuine conservative. It was a place to start.
“If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority,” said Kevin McCarthy. “We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.”
Despite not having an individual charismatic leader, the Republicans were successful in having one of the most unproductive Congresses in the history of Congress.
…and people, Black people in particular, became disillusioned…but that’s our M.O.
While I’m sure the same can be said about the masses of America, we continue to be the people who suffer the most and have the greatest disappointment from this behavior.
Now that we have a little-handed, reality show, overly-tanned bully as our soon to be President are we going to continue to wait for a Saviour?
As long as we’ve been struggling for freedom, justice, & equality in this country we’ve had debates on how to approach the problem.
W.E.B Dubois thought we should demand these rights from our government, Booker T. Washington thought we should focus on lifting ourselves up.
Martin Luther King originally focused heavily on integration, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad focused on separation and doing for self.
Those are simplifications of the ideologies of the above-mentioned but the differences weren’t major. Yet each group touted their man as THE man. The focus became THEIR man, that and their approach at solving our problems.
As a result, for the past 115 plus years, Black folk have argued approach…from soapboxes back then all the way to the internet now…and waited for some leader to sort it out.
For the majority of 1995, in and around the Clark Atlanta University campus, I was a part of a large organizing committee. We had an extensive outreach to the Southwest Atlanta Community going from door to door informing people about the event planned for October 16th 1995.
And that was just a part of it. The other part was we held community meetings — like I mentioned, I was a part of the Southwest Atlanta organizing committee but there were chapters throughout the Atlanta Metropolitan area from College Park to the south and Decatur to the east. Once a month we all met.
Each committee addressed their neighborhood concerns — the bad blocks, the blocks that needed speed bumps — every and anything that the citizens felt that they had brought to their City Council reps with no response. But we also talked about organizing teams to help: rent buses, raise funds for people who were unable to afford the trip, security, guides, every and anything needed to make this event a success.
The event I’m talking about is the Million Man March. Churches were involved. Mosques were involved. High Schools, Black Colleges and Black Student Alliances from Emory, Georgia Tech, & Georgia State were involved.
It was the most I had seen Black people unified in all my years of being involved in Black organizing.
No one knew what to expect. We were all cautious driving up. We had print outs on the behavior that we should have on the road to Washington D.C. Things like: drive the speed limit, make sure your car stays gassed up, be respectful, stay together, etc.
And the event…the event was a success.
Six months later….
The organizing committees had people fighting to be the leader of their chapter. People bickered about what the focus should be. And the people who were not a part of these committees, the hundreds of thousands of people who made contact with outreach groups, that talked to someone who came to their door, etc, those people asked the question, “What is Farrakhan doing to help us?”
Fast Forward 12 years later, 2007.
The Obama Campaign is revolutionizing the way that a Presidential Campaign is run.
For the first time, a Campaign tapped into Social Media.
Twitter was new at the time. This is around the time that I got on there due to my sister pestering to me to join. And there was Presidential Candidate, Obama, talking policy on Twitter. It was amazing. And not just there. If you went on Facebook, there were was an Obama Campaign ‘Fan’ Page where you could find out where your local chapter was. Not to mention, Obama hired filmmakers to provide content for his YouTube page . (YouTube was two years old).
But most importantly, the Campaign had an army of young, dedicated volunteers. Volunteers who believed in Obama’s message and were able to articulate that message to potential voters as they put boots on the ground and walked district after district.
It seemed like the impossible. A Black man. With the name Barack Hussein Obama. Elected. President. Of The United States of America.
I ain’t vote for Clinton…neither times…I barely remember who ran against Baby Bush…but I cast my ballet for Obama. Not because he was Black…that helped, but mostly because he was saying things that seemed true and sincere. Remember his talk on race? I did so never forgetting how this government is ran…or rather controlled…by big business and the lobbies that support the positions of Corporate America.
People shouted that it was a new era. A Post-Racial world. A world where race and racism was behind us. It wasn’t just Black people who got Obama elected. It was whites, Asians, everyone.
Eight years later…
People elected a man who stoked the embers of racism, ridiculed the handicap, admitted to sexual assault — a man who has no knowledge of how government runs. So….what happened to Post-Racial? Whatever on that. What I’m more concerned with is the hundreds and thousands of posts & memes by Black folk talking about how their lives have not changed in the eight years that President Obama has been in office… “What did Obama do to help us?”
I’m no Steven Kerr, I haven’t been studying the concept of leadership for years nor do I have alternative options for the typical leadership models. The Harvard Business Review has covered enough about the topic to fill a small local library. I won’t even pretend to be on that level of being informed.
What I do know and have witnessed, in work situations and life, is effective leadership and progressive following. I’ll start with the latter. I’m sure you, the reader, have worked on jobs with a person that will only do one task at a time. That employee will finish a task and then sit back and wait for their next instruction. Some call this type of employee lazy. The progressive follower finds out what the next task is when they’re given the first and if they don’t receive that task then, before they finish one (task), they find out what the next one is.
The most effective leadership that I’ve experienced, coming from a Military family, is Military leadership. The sole purpose of Military leadership is to train leaders. My most effective employers have had that same mentality — giving their employees the best training so their employees can take ownership over their work and subsequently, the company. Here’s a good description of Military leadership:
Military leadership is based on a concept of duty, service, and self-sacrifice; we take an oath to that effect. We view our obligations to followers as a moral responsibility, defining leadership as placing follower needs before those of the leader, and we teach this value priority to junior leaders. Tom Kolditz
Movements require more than passive followers.
Movements occur when people take on the burden of bringing forth change. Movements are the 1,000s of people that have moments of bravery, whose names rarely are mentioned in the same annals of the great leaders.
(How many of us know the name of the man who stood in front of a row of tanks in Tiananmen Square back in June 1989? It’s a trick question.)
For every Honorable Elijah Muhammad, there’s a Sally Allah, a young girl who testified to Detroit law enforcement with confidence and authority on the need for private education.
For every Dr. Martin Luther King there is a Jo Ann Robinson of the Women’s Political Council who ran off 35,000 boycott notices and made phone calls all night to insure that 40,000 Black men, women, and children boycotted Montgomery’s Buses.
People were beaten and jailed in Detroit, Michigan in the mid-1930s for Black people to have the right to educate their own children.
Of course, most of us are aware of the trials and tribulations of the people who participated in the Civil Rights movement — being hosed, beaten, bit by dogs, and jailed.
And there were thousands of people who helped organize the Million Man March and all the subsequent Marches on D.C. And thousands of people who helped get President Obama elected for two terms.
The difference being, we only organized for events…not movements. We only rallied behind a charismatic leader, not their message that inspired us in the first place.
Sure there are some of us who took on the responsibility of family and participated in local government as a result of the first Million Man March. And there are those among us who, for the first time followed politics and learned how government functions after helping in the Obama Campaigns.
But if we are to ever make change in this country, we need to take an oath with the concept of duty, service, and self-sacrifice — we need to train everyone with that same type of moral obligation so that we have progressive followers who take on the message for Hope or Justice or Else and make it their mission.
A coach can do an excellent job but it’s up to the team to execute. Military authorities can organize the most comprehensive and strategic missions but without the hundreds of thousands of soldiers carrying out those orders, they’re just words.
As we mentioned above, the Republican party united to give President Obama hell…and succeeded. They carried out their agenda hook line and sinker.
So the next time we have complaints about the people that we deem to be leaders, let’s look at ourselves and the responsibilities that we ourselves have taken on. What are we doing to insure that change occurs? How involved are we? And mostly importantly, are we really prepared to unite?
Because relying on one person without rallying behind the cause will continue to lead to disappointment.