Friday, December 9, 2011

you're the boss

The other day, my younger son, Ives, came home and announced that he had been appointed as one of the captains of the high school track team he belongs to. He participates in the shot put. Ives seemed to be mixed about the appointment.

On the one hand, "captain" is a leadership role and the appointment acknowledged his long involvement and athletic skills and his capacities to be caring and supportive. Others judged him to be, in some sense, a young man among young people ... a top dog of sorts.

On the other hand, a leader must lead and I think he recognized the fact that leadership meant more work and, more than that, was somehow artificial. All he wanted to do was to improve his throwing skills and to enjoy his time doing it. A leader is, by the nature of his role, diverted from the love of whatever it was that put him at the top of the heap. And if the leader takes care of everyone under his command, who will take care of him?

I think the quandary is a good one for any human being -- wanting to be 'best' at whatever realm s/he embraces, but, while striving to be the best, seldom parsing the personal implications of what it means to be best, to be the leader, to be the ruler of the roost.

And there is worse to come.

Leadership in ordinary terms relies entirely on the good will or acquiescence or accolades of others. Without others, the whole matter turns to ash. Since others may long to be led or cared for, it's possible to assume a leadership role based on the acquiescence of others. And sometimes the applause can be deafening ... and convincing ... and yummy.

But the same business goes on at lesser levels as well -- social settings, business ... just the walking-around stuff. Your acquiescence supports my leadership or my acquiescence supports yours. I rely on you. You rely on me. In good times, we call it 'sharing.' In bad times, maybe we call it 'egotism.'

The 'worse' part, however, is this:

The burden that Ives -- or anyone else -- might feel as a leader of others who need support is compounded by a sense of artificiality, of leading a contrived life. And this sense of artificiality is something worth paying attention to. What is artificial is the credited notion that I can rely on you for my existence or that you can rely on me. It's not 'artificial' in the sense that it deserves criticism. It is artificial in the sense that I am responsible for my life no matter how scary or lonely that may feel.

You are the leader.

I am the leader.

What other choice is there?

You're not the boss of me. Hell, you're not even the boss of you.

Leadership is not bossing others around or finding some warm and fuzzy definition in their praise or blame. It is just what cannot be escaped... and what deserves a nourishing attention and care ... and what anyone might want to get used to. If you are the boss, well, what next? If I am the boss, well, what next? If a boss bosses things around, what could possibly be bossed around? If you say that others can be bossed around, there is constant uncertainty and a sense of artificiality. If you say they can't be bossed around, the result is the same -- a sense that things are not yet straight and clear in this life.

So ... who's the boss? Who's the real boss? If bejeweled and beguiling crowns don't really settle matters, what does?

Ah well. Settle down. Stop trying to escape.  No need for artificiality. You're the boss after all.


  1. Tao Te Ching
    Verse 17

    With the greatest leader above them,

    people barely know one exists.

    Next comes one whom they love and praise.

    Next comes one whom they fear.

    Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

    When a leader trusts no one,

    no one trusts him.

    The great leader speaks little.

    He never speaks carelessly.

    He works without self-interest

    and leaves no trace.

    When all is finished, the people say

    “We did it ourselves.”