During one of our recent community meetings, the local priest of my small Paraguayan pueblo observed to the Constructores de la Sociedad that in many ways I could easily be taken for a leader in our group. One of my youth similarly stated during the leadership camp last January that I was indeed a leader in town bringing people together on community projects. While flattering, I am not completely convinced that I am such a lider as described. One could call me more accurately a “leader in training,” otherwise known as a “follower.”
We talk a lot about leadership in the Community Economic Development sector of the Peace Corps. Our aim is build leaders. The best leaders it is said are those that when a project is over, the people say, “we did it ourselves.” This theme is further explored in a book I’m currently reading called Follow me to Freedom: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John M. Perkins. This book has really got me thinking about being a leader, or more accurately a follower in my site. Two key lessons I have so far taken away are that 1) vision (a key ingredient for a strong leader) stems from suffering and injustice, and 2) I’m always still learning to be a leader.
On the first point, there are two types of vision as I see it. There is personal vision, such as goal-setting and individual ambition. This I know quite well. There is also leadership vision, which is about finding a cause that keeps you up at night and drives you to find a solution with the people. It is about identifying the suffering of a people, your people, and leading through it. In Paraguay, I have been lacking motivation as of late. I lack this second kind of vision. When I came here, I expected in many ways to see injustice on every street corner in the form of poverty, corruption, or something I did not yet know that would set my heart afire. Yet this has not been the case so far in my service. Yes there is poverty. Yes there is corruption. Yes there are many things I disagree with in general. But… nobody is crying out or even really complaining. Where is the suffering? Surly, this does exist in Paraguay; I just need to go and find it. Action #1: search out that injustice.
Second, I have a long way to go toward becoming a leader. First things first, I need to learn to follow. Throughout my life I have had many a mentor from professors to coworkers to friends. Here, I need to find that too. Someone that can help me see where I fit into the puzzle and help me to mold myself into a leader for the people. I also need to admit when I am wrong more often. I often make mistakes, we all do- but a key to leadership is not making all the right choices, it is knowing when to say we have messed up and learning from it. On the same thread, I should not get stuck in lamenting the wrongs or feeling guilty about the past… because those very things are what make us stronger in the future. Additionally, as a leader in training it is important to identify the unique skills that I can offer to those around me to help correct injustice. If I know where I am strong and where I am weak, I can find others to work with that compliment my shortcomings and further the cause. Leadership is about teamwork at the end of the day. Finally, energy preservation through rest is vital. I often get worn out due to lack of “days off” (Peace Corps is a 24/7 job they say, and I stand by that as true). If I do not rest I cannot be in it for the long haul, and the causes really worth fighting for are going to be long-term ordeals. Action #2: remember to be a follower.
Leadership is a tricky thing, especially when one is outside her own culture. But here I am. Daily I am asked to be a leader, even presented as one. It’s worthwhile considering about how to do it better.