So what happens when you have no commitment to the leadership role at hand? What happens when the leadership role is co-opted for the purpose of self-preservation? The answers to these questions will vary and will probably be adjusted by those who choose to answer based on the context in which the questions are received. But rest assured, one’s personal agenda weighs heavily in the equation and will also determine one’s response.
The purpose for this piece is to bring a level of critical consciousness to the application of leadership as it defines where confusion exists in how leadership is interpreted situationally and how it affects socially.
Michael Useem identifies leadership as “the actions that signify one making a difference.” Useem opines further, “Wherever a society exists, leadership exists and that any interpretation of leadership must account for its universal nature.” Useem is not used here as the eminent authority on leadership; he is used for his posture on what leadership is.
Two leadership theories should bring context to why the NAACP was involved with giving an award to Donald Sterling and was about to make the same atrocity again had the most recent social scandal not been uncovered. Michael Hackman and Craig Johnson wrote, “What makes humans unique is their ability to create and manipulate symbols.” Tuck this away to be applied later.
The leadership constructs I am identifying are couched as an interpersonal circumflex of symbolic leadership and transformational-charismatic leadership. Symbolic leadership is leadership through symbols, rituals and conventional ways of leading that give the appearance leadership is happening. Transformational-charismatic leadership is leadership imposed by way of good oration, appealing personal appearance, resume brandishing and physical stature. This construct brings about a sense of authority and leadership.
One of the major pitfalls here is being judged on intent vs. impact.
Most people are judged, evaluated, etc., on the impact of their intent. Rarely do we get a second chance at a first impression. The contemporary to both of these constructs, based on Gary Clabaugh and Edward Rozycki, is pseudo leadership. They do not make this distinction; I am because their work is applicable. I do not mean disrespect, but I have to liken it to the phenomenon around mega churches and mega pastors, how they operate and are interpreted socially, and the subsequent scandals that sometimes loom.
The NAACP is symbolic historically. It represents a time and place in history that brings about several very real emotions for folks. Generationally and socially, many lack the desire to know and adhere to what made the NAACP the NAACP. There is a fundamental disconnect between people and history. “History does not repeat itself, foolish people repeat history.”
The NAACP, in this case, was motivated by two leadership constructs, which led to poor decision-making. In my mind, it takes more than just looking good and talking well and associating with a symbolic time in history to affect and make change. If you do not stand for something, you have the propensity to fall for anything, and that is what happened.
Money has an effect on all of us. That is not a bad thing. Money is not the root of all evil, as some espouse; it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. And now that the damage is done, we are left with the aftermath of two superficial leadership constructs that were misused to create an illusion that leadership took place. When you have this kind of damage socially, you have to begin the rebuilding process immediately for social trust and a renewed sense of credibility to mitigate damages. This is not an easy task and takes serious commitment to be successful.
The illusion of good leadership took place based on symbolic and transformational-charismatic leadership. Useem said leadership is the actions that signify one making a difference. This is where I insert my personal critical-consciousness leadership construct, which is simply: Do not be OK with just making a difference (based on giving and using resources); rather, be committed to being a difference (changing behavior, standing for something and not being co-opted by resources, etc.).
Even though I can understand what happened and why it happened, I cannot allow it to excuse the behavior — the reason for the behavior does not excuse the behavior. Personal accountability and responsibility must be asserted here without religion being involved. God does forgive (if that is what you believe), but that does not absolve culpability.
Many in society are fooled by glitz and glamor that allow us to be vulnerable to pseudo leadership.
People take positions in leadership as if a title will determine behavior, leadership and decision-making. Once the damage is done and the symbol is tarnished, the rebuilding process is deep, heavy and can be quite problematic.
If you are a person without ethics with $3 million, unless you stand for something, become educated (not limited to formal) and adhere to standards and ethics, you are just an unethical person with $3 million. It is funny how change seems to be appropriate here. People are always talking about change and remain in the company of and take advice from people in their current state instead of the alternative, which is being in the company of and taking advice from people in their desired state — to make matters worse, they expect change to occur.
Change by choice, not by design. Dear NAACP, I personally expect better — please stop giving “material.” It is tough enough without your assistance.
Scott S. Richardson is an adjunct professor in the department of graduate business programs at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa.