Thoughts on Leadership

by Pam Collins

As president of your Board, this vantage point has given me some thoughts on leadership that I’d like to share with you…

I don’t think it’s over-stating the case that on many levels this country is facing a crisis of leadership.  There are a lot of people in positions of leadership that ought not to be, and many who should be that resist leadership roles with all their might.  And there are those who step into the fray despite the chaos, the threats, the responsibility, and the inevitability of criticism no matter what they do.

And so why do people do it?  Some do it because they see an opportunity for self-promotion, financial gain, or the thrill of power.  Others do it from a sincere desire to serve (let’s not forget that).  And some, either intentionally or unconsciously, confuse the two.  

The larger question for me, here, is why do so many people NOT do it?  There are a lot of reasons: it’s a lot of responsibility, it takes a lot of time, it causes stress (and most of us have all we need, thank you very much).  I think there are also deeper issues.  When I reluctantly took on the position of department chair at SUNY Cobleskill, there were some people who had been my friends (I thought) who suddenly saw me as the enemy because chairpersonship is a quasi-administrative position.  I was flabbergasted and hurt and, in retrospect, spent too much time and energy trying to prove I was still “one of the guys”.  It should be noted that NONE of those people wanted anything to do with being chair, and yet to not have a department chair put us more at the mercy of the whims of administration…go figure.

Too often, when people accept or take on leadership positions, it is seen by others as a power-grab.  No wonder the kind of thoughtful, caring people who would make good leaders refuse to put themselves forward.  There is also the question of protecting one’s “goodness” not just from the perception of others, but in one’s own self.  The ego is a fragile and hungry thing.  Even the most well-meaning souls can be caught by its appetite.  There is some wisdom in avoiding opportunities for our egos to get the upper hand, and yet….

It’s fall and so Nature offers us a very visible lesson on leadership.  We often hear the honking before we see the beauty and mystery of the V crossing our vision.  Watch the geese.  That V doesn’t happen without a leader.  Leadership is essential to the survival of living beings.  But also notice, if you can, that from time to time the leader will drop back and another goose will take its place.  A natural and highly sustainable rotation in responsibility.  Not a power-grab, but the acceptance, for a time, of responsibility for the beloved flock.  There is also the knowledge that the flock “has the leader’s back” and someone else will do their part in a timely manner.

There is no argument against the reality that taking on leadership is a sacrifice, but it’s one we take on for the good of an organization or group of people that we care about.  So often we wring our hands and ask “what can I do?”  Well, there it is.  But how much easier would it be if we were like the geese, knowing that before our wings tired, another would take our place?


Pam Collins, Board President (for now)