Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

On Leadership

I was chatting with ladysprite about this the other day, and it occurred to me that I've been meaning to write it up for ages, since it's been much on my mind lately. Important note: I am *not* talking about anyone in particular here. If you think I'm speaking about you specifically, you are incorrect. If anything, I'm mainly drawing from my own experience, plus extremely broad observations of how things work.

Question: what are the most important qualities and practices of a leader in an organization like the SCA?

I'll put a stake in the ground, and assert that the single most important element is Enthusiasm. Indeed, I'll go further, and say that enthusiasm is both necessary to being an effective leader in the SCA, and sufficient to being at least moderately effective. There are other qualities needed to do a job really well, but in most cases one can do at least an adequate job without them.

I intentionally contrast Enthusiasm with Duty. A lot of people lead activities in the SCA out of a sense of duty -- a feeling that it is their responsibility to take this leadership role. In my experience, that almost never works well. Duty can get you going through the motions, but it fails in a couple of key respects:
  • First, it fails to inspire others. If a leader shows a measure of passion for the task -- if they find the activity fun, or care deeply about their branch, or what-have-you -- that almost always inspires others to come join in. It is *very* difficult to inspire people out of a sense of duty.

  • Second, it doesn't sustain the leader well. Every activity goes through ups and downs. If the leader is passionate about it, they can generally get through that decently unscathed. But if they are doing it out of duty, burnout sets in rapidly. And that tends to lead to a downward spiral: when the leader burns out, others get *negatively* inspired -- just as passion for the activity tends to infect others, so does lack of passion for it.
Enthusiasm is not a simple constant. In many cases, someone starts a role with enthusiasm, but that gradually shades over time into doing it out of a sense of obligation. That's essentially the definition of burnout, and most people don't recognize it in themselves anywhere near fast enough. This usually has a negative effect on the activity over time. It's an understandable syndrome (I think almost all of us who have taken leadership roles in the Society have been through it at least once), but usually means that the leader has done a modest amount of unintentional harm to the activity by the time they actually step down.

It's not a quality that is necessarily limited to the activity head -- a really healthy activity will often have a lot of passion spread among its various members, and it's possible for that passion to make up for some lack of it in the leadership. In my observation, though, the people in charge of the activity have a large multiplier in how much effect their passion (or lack thereof) will have on the activity.

There are a few exceptions to this rule -- I believe they are all cases where the leadership job is mainly administrative in nature, where inspiring others is largely a non-sequiteur to the task. In those cases, one can be decently effective motivated only by duty, although that effectiveness tends to fade with time, as lack of motivation takes its toll. The number of such roles is very small, though: I can think of maybe a half-dozen offices in Carolingia that falls into this category. And even there, a passionate officer will almost always do a better job.

For now, I'll leave the practical implications of this as an exercise for the reader. I do think it *has* a lot of implications, that we ought to take seriously, but I think they're a tad complex, so I leave them as a matter for discussion.

So -- opinions? Am I correct? Am I full of it? What are the other characteristics of effective leadership in the SCA? I'm making a very broad statement here, that applies to most officers, guild and activity heads, and branch heads. In what ways do these roles differ in terms of their leadership? What are the implications for how we can make our various activities (and the Barony in general) more active and lively? I'm throwing the floor open for discussion...

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