Assigning my underwear to my confidential region with the supervision of a doorway, I recall leaders I’ve agreed with. They often used direct communication, were transparent with their concerns, creative with their approach to a problem, validated me with compassionate and empathic listening, were selfless, and left their double standard in the spatula drawer where it wouldn’t be used to flip a point that challenged their observed hypocrisies. There have only been a couple of such leaders in my own life, leaders who, let’s face it, reflected my own values and interests.
One was a writing mentor who, challenging what he perceived were current trends in avoiding sharing private information in poetry, sought to level secrecy itself, while preserving a more eastern and martial teacher/student leadership style that placed humility above the ego. “Will the student kill the master?” he asked me once on the phone when, after I told him I sent my book out to a book contest, he said he’d sent his out to the same one. To him, the student superseding the master was a twelve-step way of giving back, honoring poetry’s legacy, and being a father that a son could be proud of.
It’s why I believe true leaders, like true masters, seek to have their students replace them, instead of, as they often do now, try to dumb down and subordinate them in order to secure their own top-heavy positions and systems.
I thought about this this morning while I was standing in the kitchen burning my egg white omelet for the hundredth time. All those years employers told me I had a problem with authority, and I looked at their personality test sideways like I was having an orgasm and a stroke at the same time whenever they told me to do something I disagreed with and I followed up with a soft-boiled you got it like a burping clam, what I had a problem with wasn’t authority, which, being an abstract noun has about as much meat to it as an egg shell does, but leadership strategy.
If I were in my right mind, I’d see I could boil back this rigidity to my disgust of overcooked, vague instruction-giving and definition-making, contradictory communication, poor time management and delegation strategies, late and fragmented information delivery, absent modeling, and impulsive problem solving that feels its way through a problem instead of thinking critically about it beforehand, though for solitary pursuits spent writing in silent rooms at the tops of snow-capped mountains inside the moment, I profess, I’d encourage the latter. But I’m just flying random like a fart over a rainbow at this moment.
I’m skipping through the neighborhood in my head, jumping up onto the hood of my father’s blue Chevette in the driveway and high-fiving Peeler, the old lady who never came off her porch, through the screen. I’m practically in a musical about an angsty young adult going through a right-of-passage while I scrape the skin-like remnants of my breakfast from the bottom of my non-stick, my thoughts hanging off my brain slack, like my father when he blacked out from drink and blew yoke-colored bile across the arm of the recliner he confused for one of the race cars he liked to watch on ESPN, where he imagined himself getting a congratulatory lap dance inside the car during the final lap, not unlike the kind it’s easy to imagine his hired escort giving him during his final days.