Editor’s note: We’re so lucky at LLA to be part of a close-knit network of thinkers, dreamers, and philosophers. Today, I’m excited to share an article written by one of our friends, which contains musings of the nature of leadership.
On a meet-the-parents trip to Cleveland, in my would-be mother-in-law’s kitchen, my ex-girlfriend’s mom popped the question as earnestly as is possible over a plate of eggs and beanie-weenies: Are you a leader or a follower? In the moment, I weaseled out of responding, but this facile formulation, to be honest, still nags me to this day.
The question presents, of course, a false binary. No one posits that Christmas parades consist of a color guard out front and then everyone else bringing up the rear—Kris Kringle, it’s fair to say, is no follower. And nearly a decade now into my life as an administrator, I recognize that leadership is just as much about hiring the right people and empowering them to succeed as it is about directing traffic.
Still, as an artist, I quibble over the idea of “thought leaders”, a term with an uneasy rhetorical proximity to “mind controllers”, and which, along with its sister term “influencers,” bears the euphemistic ring of commercial exploitation. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but in the cartography of my writer’s mind, there’s no direct or dotted line between artistic concept and dollar signs. Just as thought is inseparable from thinkers, ideas, for me, are inseparable from stories, and stories, in turn, inseparable from voices, those voices inextricably bound to the cacophony of others yelling, crying, and praying around them.
That’s why my work—that which I do for money and otherwise—is dialogic, that is, performed with a commitment to pluralism and an awareness of the work’s debt to, engagement with, and impact on the voices of others. This work is not easy and has consequences, but I learn from it immensely: about my self, about relationships, about the whirling galactic slurry we’re all swimming in. I liken the process to falling asleep at the wheel each night and awakening safe, sound, but in a different city than the one I’d set out for—neither turning the wheel nor following directions but serving as a conduit through which different agents act, other voices speak.
So, yeah, I’m a conduit. Perhaps had I summoned that answer in Cleveland things would have turned out differently. I can see my would-be mother-in-law’s eyes widen gravely with that reply, see her reach for my shoulders to jostle me awake with the realization of where things are headed. Perhaps then I would have followed directions. Perhaps then I would have taken the wheel.
About the Author
Jackson Brown is the writer and illustrator of the graphic-novel-in-progress The Grand Bargain and of the serial comic Cake and Potatoes, as well as a contributing and advisory editor for Callaloo literary journal. He is endowed with the uncanny ability to, whenever necessary, relinquish his own will for the greater good—except when it comes to dark chocolate, which is never necessary but always good. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, daughter, and, when he’s lucky, his mother-in-law. Follow him on Twitter.