… Leadership in Liberal Democracy, part 2
This entry is a second reflection on the notion of leadership in a liberal democracy. In the last post, I wrote about how Labaree describes the immanent tensions in a liberal democracy, whereby efforts to allow for the expression of personal liberties and the promotion of the common good conflict. I related Labaree’s idea to the irresolvability of being a pedagogue, floundering about in muddiness. This, I think, is essential to teaching and leading, or indeed citizenship, but perhaps not so great for trying to make money. In this post, I want to write about how floundering is an important part of public leadership in light of the so-called `Founder’s Syndrome’ in the non-profit sector.
In the last post , I described how Labaree’s description of leadership mucking about in muddiness is radically different from the narrow-minded CEO ethos that seems to permeate so-called education reform today. On a side note, I recently read a job description seeking a head (US: principal) for a school who has a `relentless focus on outcomes.’ I’m sorry folks, focus ain’t enough anymore. It’s got to be relentless. I recommend this reform agenda starts to make one-word motivational posters for their CEO’s offices.
Above `RELENTLESS’, you might have imagery of desert heat or the clinched jaws of a pit bull.
Of course, nowhere in the job description does it mention the head’s duty to care about teachers’ learning, to foster an environment where teachers flounder a bit in the irresolvability of being a pedagogue. Perhaps just maybe students might then also wrestle with the complexity of being a citizen, a brother, a sister, a labourer, a poet.
But there is no place for weakness in a society fearful of decline. We’ve had enough failure. And of course, it’s women’s fault. The vulnerability of the femaled progressive educator must be squashed. Bring in the boys (and girls), rolling into a community near you, sittin’ on the hoods of bulldozers and tanks, shrink-wrapped in Facebook advertisements….
Whew… Okay, enough ranting, I’m off topic… Back to F(l)ounder’s Syndrome.
When I started New Urban Arts, I quickly learned about the founder’s syndrome and felt haunted by it. The syndrome describes founder’s tendency to stay too long at their organisations, outweighing their usefulness. The assumption is that while founder’s may have charisma, vision, and good looks needed to start organisations, they usually don’t have the other capacities needed to build and sustain them.
This is of course simplistic. There are enough counter-examples to show that this isn’t always the case. But, there are enough examples to show that this description does hold water.
I was always afraid I was going to be the last one to find out that I had over-stayed my welcome. I imagined no one would want to be the person to tell me. To avoid that scenario, everybody was going to have to sit me down at the same time and do some intervention. I’d be sitting in my office and all of a sudden I would start hearing ferocious creaking from the gallery, i.e. all the chairs being lifted out of New Urban Arts’ homemade chair truck to make some scary circle of doom.
Of course, I never knew when that moment might come. I also knew that if I felt it was imminent, then it was too late. I needed to be ahead of doom.
So, how did I know I wasn’t there yet but might be soon?
Well, I started to feel too comfortable in my job. I didn’t feel like I was floundering as much. I felt too certain. I felt like I was providing staff and artist mentors more answers than questions. My idealistic look forward toward describing an unknown future was giving way to a more cynical look backward, rooted in the certainty of an authoritative past.
I was thinking about this last week as Jason shared with me some reflections of the Institute of Other Significant Pursuits, indeed one of the most exciting developments in New Urban Arts’ short history. The purpose of the Institute is to provide a touchpoint for alumni, a moment where they might return to the studio to wrestle around with the irresolvability of being an artist, educator, community-problem solver, parent, etc. It’s a moment to do this together as a way of catalyzing whatever the next giant leap in their development might be.
The Institute serves as a metaphor, I think, more broadly for New Urban Arts. As much as New Urban Arts thinks about what happens in the studio each day, week, month and year, it is really a story of beginnings. It’s a place where all of us attempt to find our flying feathers before we let ‘em rip.
This was one of the tensions of being the organisation’s founder, in light of fears about the syndrome. While almost all the students, artist mentors and staff flew the coop, I stayed. The irony for me was that I couldn’t understand New Urban Arts until I left. And no one else could experience the priviliged irresolvability of that position until I was gone.
This strikes me as what is so powerful and important about the Institute. I think it also relates to the reflections on New Urban Arts that I am considering in this blog. These are the stories of continuing to navigate these impossibilities in light of what we learned at New Urban Arts, in light of New Urban Arts continuing to provide generative interventions in how we navigate these impossibilities.
What else could a school hope for?Tweet