Jen McMillin


Finding a New Way to Lead

Last night, I was able to attend a presentation at University of Illinois - Springfield, my alma mater, by a fellow Capital Scholar grad Samantha Drew Gordon.  She focused on her work, primarily with SEIU, looking for a better way to lead.

Gordon's presentation struck a chord with me on several levels.  Over the last few years, I have noticed in the past I didn't always see those leaders that don't "lead" the way I assume is best.  Rather, I focused on the figureheads and waited to be shown the "right" way forward.

But, a scary truth has emerged - there is no "right" way.  Rather, it may be more constructive to focus on the collective values and goals, working on it as a group in a "leaderless" fashion.  Gordon impressed that current "leaderless" groups are in fact not leaderless, but instead employee a more collective model, like that of Ella Baker in the Civil Rights movement.  This movement, directed by a traditional figurehead model with Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was able to survive his assassination and continue because of the work in the leaderless fashion.

This echoes for me today as someone who defines my politics as progressive.  We cannot simply hold back and rely on the Elizabeth Warrens and Bernie Sanders.  We, as a collective unit, need to continue to work towards our goals.

Gordon's talk also reminded me a bit about the Backfire Effect - something that I recently heard about on the You Are Not So Smart podcast.  Gordon was talking about creating leaders with the spiral education model - something that is frequently used in adult education.  Not only does this model encourage people to act, sometimes picking up a "leadership" role, but it also helps to bypass the backfire effect.  In the spiral model, you start with what a person knows and relates to, before looking to interpretations and adding new information.  This allows people to avoid the "fight or flight" response that sometimes happens when you challenge people's ideas and experiences.

Overall - I was so glad that I attended this talk on #InternationalWomensDay.  Gordon's message was something that I needed to hear, that many of those in my generation need to hear.

Jen McMillin