There’s one in every organization. A person who believes that things should be done a certain way because they’ve always been done that way. Because that person knows best, no matter what.
These traditionalists squash the non-conformists and exert their Alpha personalities (often sugar coated in “do-gooder-ness” and sweet smiles) to ensure that new ways of thinking, new ideas and new ways of being and living are kept out of organizations.
As a youth, the church I belonged to once dismissed an organist because he came out of the closet. It came as a surprise to no one that he was gay, though some where surprised that he made the decision not to hide it any longer.
The organist had been a lifelong member of the parish, since his baptism. He was well-known, well-liked and brought the services alive with his music. But when he came out of the closest, the priest decided he had to go. And so, he was fired and hastily replaced in time for the next service.
The congregation asked questions. The priest stood firm. The sinner, who in his eyes, refused to repent, had no place in his church.
The congregation rallied and went above the priest who dismissed the gifted musician, seeking audience with the Bishop. There were quiet threats made about going to the media.
The result? The priest was required by his superiors to re-instate the organist. The congregation was relieved and happy to have their favorite musician back. The priest was left seething that this authority had been questioned and his decision was overthrown. He never admitted that his original decision to throw out the musician was wrong. In his mind, he was the authority, he knew how things should be done and the entire congregation, as well as his superiors were in the wrong.
What does it take for the bad decision of an authoritative leader to be overturned? To be outnumbered from below and outranked from above. For these forces from above and below to stand together in their position that the situation must be scrutinized, reconsidered and ultimately, corrected. This combination happens less often than it could. It requires tremendous will, organization and persistence to fight the good fight.
People make decisions they feel are justified, even when those decisions are wrong.
Leaders make decisions based on what will benefit their followers the most, for both the short and long term. Who decides what counts as a benefit? Well, the leader of course. Sometimes that means putting aside one’s own personal opinions or beliefs to look at the bigger picture. Weighing possible outcomes of the decision isn’t a bad skill for a leader to have either.
Just because someone has experience or thinks they know the way, doesn’t necessarily make them a leader.
Without followers, an authority figure isn’t a leader, just a tyrant dressed in leader’s clothing.
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.