“Life in Technicolor” | Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons by MFardin
In college, my young, petite, and handsome English professor had mastered the English language and spoke with a “perfect” American accent. Unfortunately, she did not have the skills to teach and mold young minds. In class, she butchered my essays with revisions and unflattering comments in bold red ink. For her, there is only one way to write, her own way. No drop of creative juice ever flowed out of my pen as I tried to write what she expected. For her, the meter and rhyme of lines were more important rather than the heart and soul of writing. She was a tyrant who imposed her style’s disciplined rigidity, while I valued the free-flowing fluidity of the jazz, rhythm, and blues style of writing. I barely passed in her class. I wondered then what kind of a mother she would have become.
In contrast, my middle-aged English teacher taught English literature back in high school by contextualizing the topics into our daily lives. There were always lessons to be learned from the classics on tragedies, love stories, adventures, etc., by improvising and inserting our present life into the plot and telling our own stories in our own words. She concluded with lessons learned and values exemplified by the story. Most importantly, she lived by what she believed and the values she held dear. She was a true teacher in and outside the classroom. She had a different take on how to teach and lead her students.
One does not have to go to graduate school to understand leadership. In a most basic sense, looking at how we were raised and how our parents governed the family gives us a glimpse of the general outline of our concept of leadership or authority. To a lesser or greater degree, families have dysfunctions. There is neither such thing as perfect parents nor perfect children. Ergo, no perfect family! Families with severe dysfunction due to parental mental health problems, substance abuse, or economic difficulties often run chaotic households. The chronic fear of things getting out of control forces the parents to be rigid and intolerant of deviation from established norms.
“One does not have to go to graduate school to understand leadership. In a most basic sense, looking at how we were raised and how our parents governed the family gives us a glimpse of the general outline of our concept of leadership or authority. To a lesser or greater degree, families have dysfunctions. There is neither such thing as perfect parents nor perfect children.”
A parental mental imbalance is reflected in unpredictable behavior and inconsistent governance of the family. The parent who is the source of the problem often becomes the center of that universe about which everything revolves around. The dysfunction multiplies exponentially when both parents are the problem or when one of the children becomes a problem. Under this roof, children grow up with a certain experience or conditioning of how they relate with people, respond to commands, and lead others. It establishes their locus of control and ability to tolerate the stress in dealing with differences, i.e., different people, situations, opinions, or ideas.
Another source of common-sense knowledge on leadership is our experience in the world of work. Over time, many of us have been under different bosses with different leadership styles. The roof under which we are raised often determines how we lead or take orders from others. When unable to transcend the deep-seated effects of family dysfunctions, the pathology gets played out in workplace relationships and the issue of power. A dysfunctional home’s drabness is translated into a mental rigidity that runs in a spectrum, with one end being overly controlling and the other a laissez-faire leadership style. The relationship with subordinates becomes either distant or indulgent (or enabling).
However, a sense of mental balance is achieved when we have good mental health, which often comes with our ability to work through growing up pains. Keeping the mind and emotions in an even keel, decisiveness, taking the middle path, tolerance for what is different, and knowing what face to put on or language to use according to circumstances are qualities we look for from leaders. They allow for various alternatives to be explored instead of “my way or the highway.” We emulate and identify with those qualities not out of a feeling of inadequacy but one of strength. Rigidity and authoritarianism often are rooted in deep-seated inadequacy. What comes out of these are leaders who like to give commands but rarely set an example. While the latter casts a dark shadow, the former elicits a rainbow of bright ideas in our minds. One is repressive, the other empowering.
“Rigidity and authoritarianism often are rooted in deep-seated inadequacy. What comes out of these are leaders who like to give commands but rarely set an example. While the latter casts a dark shadow, the former elicits a rainbow of bright ideas in our minds. One is repressive, the other empowering.”
I set out to elaborate on the concept of leadership and how one shapes the contours of one’s own leadership style and use of power in a microcosmic perspective. Projecting the same conceptualization in the national political arena gives us a macrocosmic perspective. A truly democratic regime often facilitates a generally egalitarian society with more capacity to accommodate a diversity of people and ideas. Important issues that affect the nation are debated, and the people have avenues to provide input or influence the national discourse through the mass media, and now, the social media.
In contrast, autocratic regimes exercise effective control of all means of discourse and have little tolerance for dissension or alternative opinions. It is often dominated by an all-powerful leader whose dictum permeates all nooks and corners of society. Even in a democratic country like the U.S., which has two major parties that are always vying for control of the centers of power, a political leader can lean in either direction of governing style: autocratic or participative. Despots often play out in the national and public arena their own personal history, which has shaped their idea of leadership and power, often with tragic consequences. If they had held absolute power, they lose the ability to benefit from the moderating influence of a good and honest counsel and opposing opinions.
“We need effective messaging that invites critical thinking, not a media that puts a premium on sensationalism over straight facts or capitalizes on fake news that satisfies the misinformed delusions and fantasies.”
In a working democracy, this is less likely to happen because of the various checks and balances that are put in place to protect the institution. Our recent experience of troublesome U.S. politics and their likely consequences is a lesson to take to heart. A common assumption in a democracy is the country’s primacy and people’s interests above all, regardless of the leader’s party politics and personal circumstances. We have seen that all it may take is a misguided leader who sings a siren song to appeal to a disgruntled mob and throngs of equally misguided followers to turn democracy upside down.
We need effective messaging that invites critical thinking, not a media that puts a premium on sensationalism over straight facts or capitalizes on fake news that satisfies the misinformed delusions and fantasies.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.