Countless leadership authors encourage leaders to be inspiring, visionary, and brave. Followers are attracted to these powerful and charismatic leaders like moths to a flame. That is hardly surprising: Who can, after all, resist a hero?
Interestingly, the image of a leader painted by these authors seems to lack common human emotions. Nowhere do I see fear, reluctance to lead, or insecurity. The leader knows he was born to lead. The leader knows she will be followed.
Or does she?
Enters Katniss Aberdeen, the heroin of the Hunger Games series. Katniss had no intention to lead. As she told President Snow in a moving scene from Mockingjay: "I only wanted to save my sister and keep Peeta alive" (if you know nothing about the Hunger Games Trilogy, you may catch up in this brief summary).
So why then does Katniss lead? As I reflected on the answer, I came across three clips. In the first, we hear about the origins of the "Mockingjay" (a mutant bird who imitates human sounds, a symbolic pin Katniss wore early in the series for protection).
The second clip requires an introduction, especially if you are not familiar with Suzanne Collins' books. When the leaders of District 13 ask Katniss to help inspire the revolutionaries, they plan a series of propaganda clips (called "propos"). Katniss tries to recite inspiring words written by someone else. The result is a total disaster, as fake and empty as the set. Watch as Katniss' friend and mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, explains the problem.
Finally, Katniss is allowed to go to the front lines. She talks to the revolutionaries, witnesses their pain first hand. Fueled by anger and passion, she delivers an inspiring and game changing speech, warning President Snow: "If we burn, you burn with us!" (watch the final official trailer, with a brief clip of this speech).
The story of Katniss is not one of charisma or vision. Instead, Katniss becomes a leader through a powerful combination of survival and protective instincts, passion, and, above all, authenticity. Katniss can only be a leader when she is allowed to be real.
Perhaps most of these leadership books have it wrong. One can't really "learn to be a leader." Leaders are as different as the people who follow them or the causes for which they fight. Instead, we should focus on helping leaders find their core. Their passion. Their cause. Their personal Mockingjay.
What is yours?
Last week a friend posted on Facebook a beautiful "Flash Mob" video. A group of students from the vocal group Academia da Voz (Voice Academy) performed an impromptu rendition of "Somebody to love" at a university in the state of São Paulo, Brasil. Watch the video below. It will make you smile!
The video got me thinking about collaboration and community building lessons we can learn from flash mobs.
Total Immersion: Flash mobs don't take place in sterile stages, isolated from the audience. Performers are right there where the action is, unafraid to recruit new members and train them "on the spot."
Joy: Flash mobs are often joyful events, a beautiful culmination of hard work and preparation. Performers work for free, as a gift to the audience. Just look at the faces of the performers in the "Somebody to Love" video - they seem to be having an amazing time.
Collaboration: Flash mobs are no different than any other perfectly executed team project. The main job of each team member is to make other members "look good."
Planned improvisation: Something as beautiful as this "Somebody to Love" performance is the result of hard work. I can only imagine the number of rehearsals and planning sessions to get the performance just right! Flash mob participants, however, must be ready to improvise. After all, they will be performing in a public place, coping with the unpredictable reactions of the public. The whole experience reminds me of teaching advice I received from colleagues from University of Minnesota once - "Plan like crazy, then let it go!"
Courage: It takes courage to perform unannounced and unexpected. What if someone doesn't like the performance? What if someone is just busy and feels like the performance is an inconvenience? Flash mob performers ignore what ifs. They just do it.
What does all this have to do with community building? Well, first, one does not build a community from a sterile place. One must be willing to engage with community members, interacting with people in their natural settings. Joy is a critical ingredient - I can't imagine growing a community without a sense of energy, excitement, and pure fun. Collaboration and planned improvisation are vital for founders and early members, who must work together in the background to make things happen. Then, collaboration becomes critically important as the community grows. Finally, courage is an invaluable final ingredient. Everyone must be ready to take risks, tolerate some level of failure, and move forward when things don't work.
What are your own best practices for building a community?
About the Author
Dr. Cris Wildermuth is an Assistant Professor at Drake University, where she coordinates and teaches at the Master of Science in Leadership Development.