Where You Lead, I Will Follow

February 8, 2010 at 5:39 pm 2 comments

Are you fully aware of the impact you have on others?  Have you ever done or said anything, or modelled any kind of behaviour, that you later learned had a profound influence on someone else?  Are you living your life in a way that sets a good example?

After leaving my job in early January, I’ve been doing some significant introspection, reflection and self-analysis.  I’m working with a wonderful career/life coach, who is guiding me through the process of redirecting those talents, skills and aptitudes I possess.  I’ve lost track of them over the past several years, as I allowed my life to become dominated by a very stressful work environment.  Slowly, almost unknowingly, the colour leeched out of my life.  Things I once enjoyed and which once brought me great satisfaction, no longer did.  The depression that I have always staved off through sheer force of will, it seemed, settled in like a bad houseguest.

I’ve never intended to treat my blog like an online journal or confessional.  That kind of blog doesn’t interest me either as a reader or a writer.  This blog has languished in direct correlation with all the other activities in my life that I stopped doing.  Its original intent was to offer up my writing for the amusement, entertainment and possibly even enlightenment of others.  Cogito ergo sum has always been, for me, “I think therefore I write.”  Or sometimes, “I write therefore I think.”  The acts of thinking and writing have always been inextricably linked, perhaps causal (although the direction has sometimes varied).  But neither act is solely internally focused:  neither thinking nor writing has ever seemed to me fully or best expressed, unless shared with others.

The name of this blog is Eccentric Muse.  It’s a deliberately ambiguous term.  I both have and am an eccentric muse.  The focus in the early days of this blog was on my own eccentric muse and the wandering paths she led me down.  (As an aside, why are muses always female?  And is that a good or a bad thing?)  These days, as I attempt to clarify and (re)define my purpose, I am necessarily thinking about the impact I’ve had on others.  I’m thinking, then, about my own influence as an eccentric muse–a position much less comfortable for me.  Wandering down crooked, poorly-marked paths is not for everyone, although I find it exhilarating.   Asking others to walk down those paths is far less comfortable but here in the relatively safe virtual world, with material that is intended to be whimsical and inconsequential, the risk is slim.  Even so, I’ve been surprised at the impact I’ve had.

I have often been in positions of influence.  I have been and in some cases still am: an older sister, a friend, a manager, a community organizer, a caretaker.  Heck, even a pet owner.  All of these positions confer upon one authority and power; responsibility and accountability.  The mantle of leadership has not always rested comfortably upon me (and the mantle of followership chafes even more).  I know too much about the perils of following.  I’ve looked at that cloud from both sides now, from up and down … you know the rest.  The all-too human tendency is to accept leadership blindly, especially when it is offered by someone charismatic, persuasive and confident.  In extreme cases, to follow a leader like that is to put your very life and soul into someone else’s hands. One relies on his or her benevolence and purity of motive.  In a corporate setting, such as the one I was in, the chance of running in to a truly destructive, sociopathic leader is relatively rare, and there are usually checks and balances that prevent a leader like that–even on a small scale–from attaining a position of real power.

Usually, but not always.

And so, what do we do when we encounter a leader, or leaders, like that?  Leaders whose lust for power overshadows their capacity to behave with integrity, or who never had the capacity for it in the first place.  This is what I’m asking myself now, and being as clear-sighted and analytical as possible in formulating my response.

I have always led by example; I have tried to lead with authenticity and in good faith.  Whatever success I’ve had in bringing people along on the journey has been because of the honesty and integrity* I tried always to keep at the forefront of my mind as I performed the role. I have tried to be fully conscious of my influence as a leader.  I recognize now, however, that I failed in one central and critical aspect of leadership, and that failure was founded on a dislike of conflict so intense that I sacrificed my common sense and my own values to it.

* as another aside, integrity is such an interesting word and concept.  There is no adjective or adverb.  One’s acts cannot be “integrous”.  One cannot behave “integrously”.  It is a noun and a noun alone–a thing of such substance and import as to occupy physical space .  You must “have it” like you do an organ, like a lung or a pancreas.  You behave “with it”–as intimate but independent as a lover.

Alexander Hamilton said:  “Those who stand for nothing, fall for anything.” One could even say, those who stand for nothing, follow anything.  Faced with a leader who was manipulative, egocentric, a pathological liar and a bully, I decided to stand as a buffer between that malignant force and my team.  Instead of the harder (impossible) task of confronting her or challenging her, I was able to rationalize my enabling behaviour.  I believed, arrogantly but not incorrectly, that I understood her better and therefore could manage her better.  I suppressed my own discomfort and in its place, nurtured an, albeit well-intentioned, ultimately futile belief that I could protect others from her.  I allowed my fear of conflict to triumph over the courage of my convictions–because at some level, I didn’t have any.  My integrity was compromised because–by definition–to behave with integrity is to behave in accordance with ethical principles.

It took me about two years too long to realize that not only was I sacrificing myself, but in fact I was setting an example that I wouldn’t want others to follow.  Regaining some sense of proportion, finally reaching a point where the compromise to my values was causing more anxiety than my fear of the unknown or of the conflict that would inevitably occur were I to take a real stand, I took action.  Instead of standing as a barrier, I fled … which even as I write it sounds like I backed down or gave up or abdicated some responsibility, when in fact I took myself out of an unwinnable fight in order to survive.  I surrendered so I wouldn’t be defeated.

As I watch people leave the department I once led, I realize that–indirectly–I have taken people down another crooked, unmarked path.  Yes, their choice to take the walk and their reasons for doing so are entirely their own, but I provided them with an example that turned into an option.  It reinforces for me the ripple effect our actions and our words have on the world.  Eccentric Muse-The Blog was intended to offer up my random journeys so others could enjoy and experience them vicariously and it will continue to do that.  Now, though, as I contemplate my real-world actions and their real-world meanings and consequences, I am aware that my musings have the potential to offer something more by way of example, and I intend to write with that in mind.


Entry filed under: Personal Musings.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Julie  |  February 9, 2010 at 11:50 am

    I loved your thoughts on integrity. Powerful. I believe that as long as you are trying to act with integrity, you will not lead others astray. We are human. We make mistakes, and that is how we learn. The fact that you are willing to accept your own shortcomings and rather than accepting them, you are working to make them stronger– that makes you an example worth following.

  • 2. zennifer516  |  February 9, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    thank you, Julie! Life = change and growth.

    As for integrity, I have extremely high standards — for myself and others. I have to mull over whether “trying to act with integrity” is good enough. Whether good enough is good enough, when it comes to integrity. As you say, the effort is often recognized and acknowledged by others. But again–it goes back to the “absoluteness” of the concept. It strikes me that trying to act with integrity is like being a little bit pregnant. As Yoda says: there is no try. Do or do not.

    Not sure where I’m going with this, but you’ve given a thought-provoking response as usual!


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