Good leadership is hard to see. In fact, the best leaders don't really leave a trail. Things just keep working and then start working better. Suddenly, you realize that the thing you are in is sailing down the river unimpeded. The levees don't break. The bridges don't collapse. The floods don't come. The boat is fast and true, and you make it to your destination over and over again.
Bad leadership is just the opposite. You see bad leadership every day. It hangs like a black cloud hanging over the river that is now filled with deadly and poisonous fish. The levees break, the bad fish snapping in your lap. The bridges collapse. The boat runs out of diesel and you sit in the murky, black, dangerous waters waiting for the lifeboat that never comes.
This is the kind of leadership I see most often and I don't think it's because the people who were leading were necessarily bad. It's that leading anything is nearly impossible. You could be Jesus himself come down to run the city government in Oakland, and he'd still have to lay off police officers.
And the truth is, I don't get close enough to my leaders to know if they are doing a bad or a good job. Other factors make their jobs seem good or bad. The economy, the weather, the political climates in faraway lands all shine their happy or not-so-happy glows on the leader and there is guilt or success by association. Put a relatively good human in office, but then add a hurricane, a terrorist attack, and an oil embargo, and that leader sucks. Put a complete idiot in office (which we do so well) and add in sunny days, a calm but rising stock market, and peace in the Middle East, and he's a damn genius.
So I have to look at the leaders I can see and talk to, and that goes all the way down to my job. I once had the privilege to have an office next to our English Division Department Chair. At first, I wasn't sure why I felt so calm for those few years. But it was that I'd have my door open, her door would be open, and there would be a calm, even murmur of voices. Students would be wailing and whooping, and her replies would be reassuring, calming, centered. Colleagues would go in and start screaming about some scheduling mishap, and she'd reply with the same, light, serious, firm tones. She never reacted; she responded thoughtfully and well. The department continued to run. We made good decisions. We fought for what we wanted and needed. The ship sailed down the river.
We can only do our best. So many of us don't. So many of us are greedy, ruthless, and flat-out rude. But find a leader who listens and responds, and it doesn't matter the hurricane. The bridges don't collapse. The levees hold firm.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org