21st Century leadership has many definitions and is often changed to fit the needs of the person or organization using it. Webster Dictionary defines leadership as "a process of social influence which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in an accomplishment of a common task." But for me, it is so much more to leadership than just that. It is about inspiring others in a sustainable environment that produces the desired results of a person or organization. Two key components to my definition are inspiring and sustainable. President John Quincy Adams said ,"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." Leadership also needs to be sustainable.
This is the idea of Leader Centered Groups. Some of the first black leaders naturally arose from the church because of their knowledge of the needs of the black community. They were able to organize and galvanize the community. With their position, they logically took on roles as civic leaders and the people looked to them for guidance. As preachers became leaders, they also began to be idolized to the point that no matter the message people will follow them. The idea of idolizing black leaders moved beyond just preachers in the early twentieth century. Around this time there were differing ideas about how the black community should move forward in this country. People divided themselves into different factions based off whom they thought had a better message. They would completely accept their leader’s message and disregard the messages and thoughts of other leaders. When the leader moved, they moved. One person or two propped up the group and movement. I believe that this is where black leadership has misled us.
We are still relying on leaders who fought battles years before we were born to lead us. We still expect Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to lead us from their graves. We still expect Al Sharpton to be able lead our generation. While some of their ideals are still with us, we too often speak about the person before their vision. We need to learn to fight our fight. We are fighting the idea that we have equality, we are fighting amongst ourselves on what shade of skin is better. We are fighting to see if natural is better than permed. We were raised with the mindset that we must identify with one side of a cause and a leader within a group. That we must give all of our energy to supporting one cause and one person. I am here to tell you that, that mindset is dangerous. That mindset has divided our people and will only continue to divide us. In the movie V for Vendetta it is said “There's no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill. There's only an idea. Ideas are bulletproof.” The thought, that as long as the ideas of a group are relevant the leader is not important is the focus of Group Centered Leaders. This is the reason why the sit-ins were so successful. It did not matter who was leading the group it just mattered that the group was there. The group is inspired by the vision not a person. While Leader Centered Groups have been and can be effective when done right I caution in the age of where people do things for likes and views that this can become dangerous. In Leader Centered Groups ,the Ego ,style and charisma of the leader is more important than the message. In Group Centered Leaders the Ego of the leader is sacrificed for the sustainability of the group.
Let us use the Freddie Gray protests as example. People are still separating into factions. One side says we need to be like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and march peacefully and the other side says we need to be like Malcolm X (wrongfully) and riot and loot. We are still rallying around leaders that have died long ago. Not only are we doing that, we are twisting and changing their stances for our own selfish reasons. People are patiently waiting for Al Sharpton’s- which by the way I will describe an interesting time interacting with him in a later article- arrival so that they can have someone else to rally around. We need to let go of tangible leaders and focus on the ideas.