How do you truly “lead”, in a community so loosely organized and full of in-fighting?

Stephanie Zvan lives up to her nickname once again, this time by putting together an excellent and thorough discussion on leadership in context of the big ol’ privilege blowup (AKA, this month’s Great Rift In The Community (TM)). This is important stuff, if you want to understand exactly where people have gone wrong in arguing many of the points they’ve argued, and where people are completely misunderstanding their own leadership roles. There are many lessons we should learn from the events surrounding Elevatorgate, and Stephanie does a fantastic job of cataloguing them.

Debbie [Goddard, of CFI – ed] and I spoke about skeptical leadership, and it was a particularly interesting time to do so. Rebecca’s post on naming names in her talk at the CFI leadership conference had just come out. This was a conference that Debbie had organized and run. Also, earlier this year, I had expressed some criticism of CFI Michigan’s leadership for their promotion of an evolutionary psychology speaker and their reactions to my post and Bug Girl’s dissecting the speaker’s research.

Debbie and I had a good talk, and I’ve been meaning ever since to write up a few thoughts on leadership. Note that these are my thoughts, not Debbie’s, although I’m comfortable saying that Debbie and I agree on a few things:

  • Leadership is largely a set of skills that can be taught.
  • Due to the nature of skepticism and atheism, leaders in these movements may emerge from the ranks based on skills other than leadership. That’s natural and expected.
  • Skepticism and atheism, as broad movements, need to find a way to reliably instill these skills in their leaders to create stronger movements.
  • We need to provide support for leaders independent of the groups that they’re leading. That is to say both that pooling talent and knowledge is more effective and that it isn’t healthy for an activist organization’s leader to receive all their social support from within the organization.
  • We’re only in the beginning stages of treating leadership skills as important, but we’re already making good strides.
  • Moving this quickly, as with any kind of change, is going to produce some pain.

Now, speaking only for me, I think there are some lessons on leadership to take home from the events of the past few months. I will also be naming names here, but I should note that my intent is to provide concrete examples and to draw something good out of painful events, not to shame anyone. None of what I’m about to say is or should be transparently obvious to everyone. These are things we need to learn.

Emphasis mine. If any of this was self-evident, there’d have been no blowup.

Go read the rest of this post, post-haste.

Yes, that was an imperative. I’m being leader-y, see?

How do you truly “lead”, in a community so loosely organized and full of in-fighting?

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