Sunday, 16 March 2008

Learning how to lead

I don't think I have ever really appreciated what it is to be a leader. As I've said many times before, I've never been one to push myself to the front and take the lead - at any time in my life. But over the last few months I seem to have arrived at a point where there seems to be little alternative.

The last week has been one of the most challenging of my life and if I hadn't actively led I'm convinced it would have been much, much worse.

The death, loss and general dispair has been compounded by the lack of fresh food - but without any doubt the worst thing has been the loss of power. At least with power we had some semblance of civilisation and felt connected to what was going on around the world, but we have had no radio, television or computer access for eight days as the three day power supply never materialised. Such isolation seemed to change how we reacted towards each other in our new community and the assembly idea, which we had depended on since the beginning, just broke down into squabbles and trivial arguments. It came to head on Wednesday when two adults started to fight each other in front of the kids. I stopped the meeting and launched into speech. I don't know wher it all came from but it had been festering inside me for a few weeks.

I tried to remain calm and made a series of points about how we would only survive if we kept together as community and not as a collection of separate individuals. I backed up my speech with stories from history which showed how human beings could do incredible things if they worked together. The key to the success of all of these achievements was that people worked as one - but as one of the group said it was also a feature of such successes that there was strong leadership. This led us into a discussion where it became apparent that the group wanted more explicit leadership - they felt that they trusted me but that I was "paralysed" by always wanting to discuss everything with the group. They wanted me to make decisions and to explain them but to see them through.

And so our commitment to democratic leadership came to an end. Since Wednesday things have changed so much for the better that I can hardly believe it. I now meet with two of the adults and two of the kids every morning for half an hour and we plan out the day. We then meet as a community and we give out the tasks and programme for the day - so much of this has been to support the local community - we've put learning on hold. Our community kitchen is still in operation and we can cook with the gas cookers. Each small group has taken on responsibility for a street and they spend their time in threes going around and visiting those in need.

The arguments have stopped and I've had to steel myself to stand up to individual challenges from one or two oeople who have disagreed with what we have been doing. The greatest challenge came on Friday afternoon when I had to ask two adults to leave the community if they wern't happy. They did leave but came back an hour later apologising and committing themselves to the community. The lesson for me has been important - a leader must be strong - even if inside you are on the verge of crumbling - I was so close to giving way to them during the meeting but the outcome from sticking with the decison has been that we are so much stronger.

The good news is that the electricity supply should now be back to normal.

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