The Nature of Leadership

A rational theory of leadership has been evolving in RC for some time. It's still evolving, of course, but it is helpful periodically to review what we have learned so far and summarize it in a succinct form for use.


The first conclusion we reached in order to deal with the practical problems in RC was this: Leadership IS necessary. If two or more people are to do anything together effectively, at least one person must fill the key leadership functions. It's fine if more than one do, but at least one person must function as a leader if the group is going to succeed.

The first key function of leadership is thinking about the group as a whole, as distinct from one's thinking only about one's membership in it. There's a difference.


We hear a lot of resistance to this. From the very beginning of the RC Communities there has been vocal insistence that we don't need any leadership at all. Leadership has been identified with "Authority," and "Arrogance" and "Dictation." With every new group of people that comes into RC this battle has to be fought again. People have had so many bad experiences in the wide world with oppressive leadership that they can't help identifying leadership with oppression. Appeasing these attitudes and compromising with them doesn't work. It needs to be settled to start with, that there is a need for leadership.

In an oppressive society even the best functioning leaders are forced to act in an oppressive manner. A church or a school may intend to be pro-people in its goals and program, but the leader, the minister, or the teacher is likely to act oppressively towards individuals, just trying to keep order in the classroom.

So we meet widespread resentment and resistance to the very idea of leadership. This sometimes appears as a "theory." People will quote Perle's "You do your thing, I'll do my thing; if we meet OK, etc."-an expression of middle-class despair if ever there was one.

The leadership function has to be filled. The example sometimes offered of a group that got along without it always turns out to be an example of leadership that was very modest, very quiet, that didn't wear badges or wave banners, but nevertheless did that key job of thinking about the group as a whole.


There sometimes is a point to not publicizing leadership. Under conditions of repression, for example, it's important to conceal your leaders, to keep them very much in the background. Any of you who have ever been on a wildcat strike know that when the boss comes down and says, "All right, who started this?" that all twenty-two of you shrug your shoulders and say, "I don't know, we just all got the same idea at the same time."

Under conditions where open leadership is possible, there's a real advantage in having the leadership responsibility clearly designated. In RC (up to now at least, since our conditions have not been that repressive anywhere), we have a policy of clearly designating leadership responsibility. The Area Reference Person is the person, after consultation with everyone concerned, who makes final decisions in an Area. There's a clear place "where the buck stops." It's better to have even a wrong decision than vacillation, because if a wrong decision is made the results quickly show it's wrong and one can correct it, but if vacillation and indecision continue then everybody gets in a tangle.

So, this is the first basic principle in the theory: that leadership is necessary, that the leadership function must be filled. The more people who think about it, the better. A group that has been together long enough that everybody thinks about it, can be a really free-wheeling, easy-going group; but at least one person must think like a leader. To avoid buck-passing confusion, it's advantageous to have the responsible person clearly designated. Then anybody can lead as long as he or she is doing fine, but there's the one person who will keep an eye on the whole picture and step in if things start going wrong.


For thinking about the group to be effective, it has to operate in at least three dimensions. First, one must think about the group as an entity. A group of people is a different entity than the individuals. It's made up of the humans in it, but it functions under different laws than individuals do. We've learned something about this, we've learned how to run a good meeting, how to have a good discussion, how to see that everybody talks. We've learned to use working consensus instead of parliamentary law. There is more to learn, of course. The group as a group needs to be thought about.

Second, the individual people in the group need to be thought about. In an RC group, in particular, but probably in any group, each individual member needs to be seen individually for who that person is, where he or she is battling to re-emerge, what assistance is needed.

Third, both the group and the individuals need to be thought about not just now, at this moment, but in a time sense-where they're coming from, what point they're at, the next move they need to make, how they need to be assisted to move in the desired direction.

Good leaders sometimes function this way intuitively, but it helps to be clearly aware of the need. If one uses a check list of these principles to guide one's thinking as a leader one can practically guarantee that a group can function well.


Leaders handling any meeting of RCers, of any size, need to be sure that three basic topics are included.

  1. First, review of some previously known theory. This knowledge that we've fought for-have pulled out of confusion-is easily forgotten. Our theory is anti-pattern. It's conducting a war with patterns and the enemy infiltrates its lines all the time. Even though we understand some theory very well at one time, a week later we can be confused. We sometimes see RCers repeating to each other the exact opposite of some important theory. The patterns sneak in. A review of existing or previously known theory should be an important part of every get-together.
  2. Second, getting up-to-date on new theory. The experiences of our Co-Counselors are continually developing new knowledge. This is particularly true since the Community has become so large, and since Co-Counselors have begun to apply the theory in so many different fields. We're publishing many magazines, where people exchange what they've learned in the different fields of application. An individual Co-Counselor is seriously handicapped if he or she doesn't keep up-to-date on the new developments. Any gathering of RCers needs to include up-to-date discussion of new theory.
  3. Third, concern for the individual re-emergence of the people there. If we have a meeting of several hundred people in one evening, we're not going to be able to pay attention to each person there in detail. Even a class can usually take up two or three people only in each meeting in this way, but at least some of this can be done. The individual emergence of one or more Co-Counselors can be looked at with the attention and thought of the whole group. Where they are, where they need to go, and what they need to work with, can get examined and, hopefully, furnished. What doesn't get done at the one meeting, is at least on the agenda for follow-up at future meetings.

These three topics need to be thought about at every RC meeting whether it's a session, a class, a support group, a workshop, a gather-in, or whatever. If we can remember these three topics as we plan, we will rarely have a bad meeting, because these speak to the real needs of the people there.


There are three ways in which a leader needs to be responsible to the individual Co-Counselors in the group. You, as a leader, need to think about each of the people that you're trying to lead in terms of their humanness, in terms of their distress, and in terms of modeling for them.

In every contact with Co-Counselors we need to remember, as far as possible, how good they are, how smart they are, what fine people they are, how much they need to be reminded of their goodness, how much they need validation, encouragement, appreciation, congratulations, and the loaning of confidence ("You can do it!").

At the same time we need to look clearly at the chronic distresses in the grip of which they continually invalidate themselves and create problems for themselves, and firmly interrupt them. We can sometimes use a gentle remark ("I don't think you're that bad;" "I don't think you're helpless;" "Do you really enjoy running yourself down all the time?") or sometimes a full-fledged session with fierce directions against the chronic pattern. We try to think of each person, at the same time if possible, as this marvelous good person with this enormous need for appreciation and encouragement, and also as a pin cushion collection of cruel thorns sticking out from themselves that need to be pulled (even though the person will often seem to defend them because it's going to "hurt" to pull them). We need to try to think in both these attitudes about each person that we're trying to lead.

This can be difficult, but it's worthwhile trying.

Our third responsibility is modeling. This is part of the job of a leader; whether we like it or not we're going to be looked at as models. People are going to copy us, in everything we do. The extent to which this happens is amazing.

You will be modeling, whether you're aware of it or not. If you are not modeling awarely, not trying to be anti-pattern and proudly human, you're likely to be modeling a distress pattern and your student will copy this from you-with the best of intentions-but not to anybody's benefit.


We've finally realized that it is correct to expect everyone to become a leader. We once thought we were lucky in the kind of people who were attracted to RC, because we have developed leadership faster and better than any organization in the history of the world. It turns out that we weren't just lucky in the people who sifted in, but rather that we had tapped into a basic resource, a universal capacity for leadership. Apparently no human intelligence will have fully flourished until it has mastered the skills of enlisting other intelligences with it for joint effort, which is the essence of leadership.

The implication that follows is that we must expect every person we take into our Community (and maybe eventually every person in the wide world), to become a leader. We need to place over them an unremitting expectation that they will eventually reclaim their power and their intelligence and develop skills in leading.

We must couple this with the second thing we learned about leadership, which is to refuse to pretend that someone is ready to become a leader at any particular point just because they say they are, or are eager to be. We must not accept pretense as reality. The "eager beaver" pattern is usually some kind of frozen need ("I will validate myself by pretending to be a leader").


There have been at least two hundred people who have said, "I want to be a teacher, I want to be a teacher, you're going to invalidate me unless you let me be a teacher," and when we gave in and gave the job to them, it was disastrous. After the fact, we can understand why. If it's the pattern that's seeking the prestige or the validation or the pretense of a leadership job, giving them the leadership job fits the pattern and the person just sticks there and stagnates.


On the other hand, there have been about 2,000 people in the International Community who have had to be persuaded to take the leader's or teacher's job while protesting their unreadiness and trembling with fear. Almost all of them became marvelous leaders. It's understandable. Taking the job against the pattern keeps the person discharging and evolving and doing well in the post. It is obvious now, but it was confusing while it was going on. Not every good leader was terrified to begin leading, but many have had to take leadership against their fears and it has worked out fine.


We must expect every person whom we take into our Community to eventually move into leadership, to eventually become a leader. If we don't expect each one to master this skill of enlisting other intelligences with one's own intelligence for joint effort, then he or she will not fully flower. We will not have expected enough. This means, practically, that we start right away. We start each new person on the road to leadership at once, whether we're teaching the person one-to-one, or he or she is new in a Fundamentals Class. It becomes the responsibility of the teaching counselor or the teacher to give them something to do right away. We ask people at the very beginning to take charge of some work as part of their grooming for leadership.

At the first class we may ask the new person to dust the erasers, pick up the spent kleenex, stack the chairs, or give somebody that needs it a ride home. We ask them to participate, give them something to do immediately. We keep a record-a notebook if we can't remember well-of how they do. If they do this job well then we have a more challenging job for them to do next time. If they do that well, something else. They are asked to lead "News and Goods." Later they can report on one of the journals-the one that they're interested in-to the class.

We will have a process going. Each person is asked to do something, and if they do it well they're asked to do something more challenging. If they have difficulty doing a job, we see it as a clear signal that they need intervention-we ask the assistant teacher to counsel them for an extra session. We find out where the hang-up is. We think in these terms.


A whole number of difficulties will be solved in this way. The familiar distress that sometimes makes it hard for people to integrate into the RC Community-the feeling that they aren't quite sure they belong or are welcome-is countered. People with a job to do feel that they're part of the functioning of the group. The isolation and the worry about belonging is countered very directly.

The random grasping and speculation for candidates for leadership jobs will disappear. If a teacher is "keeping book" on exactly how far each person is progressing in leadership, then any sudden need for leadership can be met. She will know exactly how far along each person is in doing difficult, challenging jobs.

The teacher, who may at first regard this keeping track of and assigning new challenges all the time as a chore, will instead find herself with more time to think about the group well, because most other tasks will be taken care of by other people. Doing this is going to remove a lot of present difficulties and set us developing leadership very rapidly.

We have an enormous need for leadership in the Community. We could use 2,000 more teachers right now.


We are probably going to change the Community to set up a two-tiered structure, where we will do lots of introductory lectures, lots of fundamentals classes, sell lots of literature, but will not, in general, take people into the Community simply because they've been in Fundamentals class. We will take them into the Community only when they indicate that they're ready to take some responsibility for the functioning of the Community.

This two-tiered structure means that we're going to be looking for lots and lots of teachers to teach classes in the YWCA, in Adult Education, in junior colleges, in community colleges. Many kinds of organizations are these days asking our leaders for more workshops and more classes than they have time to teach. We're going to need people to advance to teaching very rapidly. We're going to have to combat some of the timidity on the part of our leaders about letting people teach. I think we'll solve that. We're going to ask people to teach even if they're not ready to teach very well. Most of the present crackerjack teachers-the best teachers we have in the Community-didn't teach too well themselves when they started. With the person coming up now they get very fussy. Of themselves, they were quite tolerant!

It's a mistake to ask people to teach who will mainly teach their patterns-we have to keep track of that-but the way to learn to teach well is by doing it, in the practice of teaching. We're going to be moving people on steadily.


There's a false notion about leadership that circulates widely in our Community. This notion is that it's "hard" to be a leader, that the leader is a martyr who works, works, works without help and with little reward, except perhaps in heaven.

The truth of the matter is that it isn't "hard" to be a leader. It's much harder to be a follower than it is to be a leader, particularly if the leadership isn't functioning well. That can really tire one-trying to get important things done in a system that isn't well led.

If you're a leader, you have the freedom to do things right-to make things function just right. That's not much of a strain. You have the initiative, you get an extra boost to re-emerge. You have the freedom to be a full-fledged human being a step ahead of everybody else, because you're acting like you're fully in charge.

Leadership isn't a case of martyrdom. You have to be doing a lot of things wrong as a leader to support the appearance of martyrdom. To lead is really a great boost to your re-emergence. It's much easier to be a leader than it is a follower.


Some of the confusion arises because there are some real needs of a leader or teacher which can get confused with frozen ones, and the patterns of some members of the Community are ready to help us stay confused. A lot of this confusion clusters around the word "support."

Among some Co-Counselors the word "support" has been used for a kind of extortion. You ask them, "Would you help do this job?" and they say, "I don't have enough support. If I had more support, I might take on a little job." If you buy into this and you organize them some "support," and then say, "Now will you help?" they say, "I don't feel quite enough support-I need a little more support." I think we simply have to give short shrift to this kind of abuse. Support is not something to be extorted on the basis of promising to "maybe" do something. Support is something to be asked for when you are already doing something and you need additional help. We have to be hard-headed about this.


For some leaders the word "support" gets into another kind of confusion. The leader may say, feeling very beleaguered, "I need more support." Much too often the member of the group responds by saying, "You're doing a fine job. I want to validate you." Or, even more insidious, "I appreciate what you're doing." Or even more addictive, "I am so grateful to you for what you are doing." The leader, with a bunch of frozen needs operating, may excitedly think, "Appreciate!", "Grateful!", and then the gratitude pattern goes away and the leader is still stuck. She wonders why she is still tired and still feels in need of support because people just gave her a lot of validation, appreciation, and even gratitude.

For a leader, support does not mean validation. If you get validation, fine. It's perhaps better than invalidation. Most of the validation you get will be patterned validation anyway. Appreciation is better than being attacked-maybe not much better but it's "better." It's "better than a kick in the pants with a frozen moccasin." Gratitude is maybe better than enmity-maybe; but if you get gratitude it's almost certain to be a pattern, because you don't deserve gratitude as a leader. "Gratitude" is ridiculous. You've got the best job in the world and the job itself is your reward.

What you do need for support as a leader are two things. One, help in doing the work. Just that. There's no reason for a leader to get so tired trying to do everything him/herself. The jobs need to be parceled out and people need to be expected and required to pitch in and help.

Two, a leader needs good counseling. Here we finally have an approach and technique-the "group counseling the leader"-that's working. In the last year it has really cut through the difficulty of leaders not getting good counseling. It's made a real difference. Wherever I hear of leaders using it, the problem is being solved. It's not the only way for a leader to be counseled, but where there's been a problem of the leader's not getting good counseling, it works. This has been a problem in the past. There are patterns that refuse to see the leader as a client once he or she takes on the leader's job. We now have the techniques, we have the theory to combat this, and this the leader does deserve. Good counseling, and help in doing the work: this is what support for the leader means.


There's another little hook to the business of the leader being a martyr, which I think we all tend to be tempted by. We've spent a lot of time working harder, harder, harder, harder and unawarely hoping somebody would notice and come over and help us discharge with the right direction or perhaps even help us do some of the work. Of course, it has never worked. If you martyr yourself working too hard, people, if they notice at all, will come by and tell you to "keep up the good work."

To achieve real support as a leader does not mean waiting for somebody to notice our "martyrdom" and rescue us. If someone ever does do that, fine (mark the person who does it for leadership right away), but it's basically the leader's responsibility to require good counseling, to, if necessary, set up the group-counseling-the-leader technique and work through it.


When leaders start to elicit-draw out-the thinking of all the members of the group, put it together, fill in the gaps in between what's been elicited, and then communicate the whole program clearly enough that the group accepts it as their program-and there has been a real attempt to do more of this in RC since the principle first appeared on the cover of Present Time-they sometimes run into some difficulties, and they complain that when they go to elicit the best thinking of the members of the group, they often get a lot of patterns rehearsed at them. This is to be expected. If a leader turns to a Co-Counselor and says, "I'd like to have your ideas," that Co-Counselor is sometimes going to feel an irresistible urge to haul out some of his or her distress and dramatize it in the hope that the leader will turn counselor and help him or her discharge. (That's all that's really behind any dramatization-the hope that if one holds out the distress, somebody will do something about it. Even the worst behavior is a pattern being held out in the hope that somebody will interrupt it so the person can discharge.) This great urge to be counseled will sometimes take over and the leader will get a lot of garbage when he or she sets out to elicit the best thinking of the members of the group.


But that's fine. It's the leader's job to pick through the garbage for the diamonds. As one does a lot of this one becomes more skilled at increasing the proportion of the diamonds and decreasing the proportion of garbage. It's possible to direct people's attention more to their ability to think rationally about the problem so that you can increase the proportion of diamonds; but you're always likely to get some garbage. That's just part of the job. What garbage you can't shut off, let it float past you and grab the diamonds as they come by.

Because everyone has something brilliant to contribute; everyone has a unique viewpoint-a unique understanding-of a situation that is extremely valuable if you can incorporate it into the general view. During my life I've spent time with some very distressed people. But I've never met anyone-among these or elsewhere-who, if I really listened to them, didn't startle me occasionally with a brilliant observation that I would never have heard from anyone else. There isn't anyone who doesn't have something brilliant to contribute if you listen to them well.


Sometimes leaders, out of shyness or a confusion about what is "democratic," refrain from offering a proposal when they ask a group to think about and discuss a problem. It feels "democratic" to call a meeting and say to the group, "Here's a problem; does anyone have any ideas?", but this doesn't work in practice. In practice, saying, "Here's a problem; any ideas?" restimulates people's insecurity and instead of rational discussion you tend to evoke a lot of patterned flak. It "sounds like" it would work, but it never works. Very rarely it appears to work, but then it is because someone else takes on the leadership role that we missed.

It is necessary, if we present a problem, to also present a solution, a proposal. This is a responsibility of the leader. It may not be a very good proposal, but if it's the best you can come up with, you'll get a positive, rational response from the group. You'll get some constructive thinking. They may simply accept your proposal. Don't be confused if they say, "Gee, that's great," and don't want to discuss anymore, but just go on to the next point. People are smart enough to recognize a good proposal and they hate to waste time. At other times they may amend your suggestion, or they may completely reject it and replace it, but whatever response it is is likely to be a rational response.


An immediate responsibility of a leader on assuming leadership, is to begin training additional leadership as additions to or replacements for herself or himself.

GOOD! NOW WILL YOU TRY __________?

Each member of a group growing toward leadership should always be receiving congratulations and approval for his or her current or just-completed success and at the same time being asked or challenged to attempt a more demanding responsibility.


A person having difficulty with or failing to handle a given function successfully should never be reproached or criticized but should always be offered counseling help (to whatever depth necessary), information, and assistance so that the function will be handled successfully. (We cannot afford the distressing effects of failures on people we are growing into leadership.)


From one important viewpoint the RC Community is a training ground for preparing leadership for the wide world. There is an enormous shortage of leadership everywhere in the wide world currently, at a time when very difficult problems of survival face every population. There is no comparably safe, aware, rational structure for learning to lead available outside our Communities. We may well have a more general responsibility here than we have realized in the past.


A special attribute of an RC leader is her or his ability to resort to counseling of the individuals concerned when difficulties caused by distress appear in any situation.

To non-RC leaders such difficulties often appear unsolvable. When we remember to use our counseling skills they can often be resolved quickly.

The RC leader's attitude toward a group member is: (a) to validate, encourage and furnish confidence; (b) to expect and require performance; and, (c) to furnish safety, insistence and persistence for discharge when necessary.


The RC leader's task is to insist, not that counseling will work, but that it can work, and exhibit this by modeling and demonstration.


One seldom-understood function of leadership is to help the group reach a decision as to which is the key issue before the group at any particular period and to raise action on this issue as a priority of the group.

There are always many important issues to be dealt with, but to try to handle them as lists (or urgent recitations) is to make it almost impossible to think about them. The human mind seems able to focus well on only one thing at a time.

Among all the urgent issues it will always be possible to discover one issue which, if acted upon, will bring all the other issues along with it. This, the "key link in the chain," can focus and unite the energies of the group, without any neglect of the other issues.

The key issue is different for each historical period. Today, in 1979-80, in the RC Communities, it is raising our Co-Counseling practice to the level of our theory.

Harvey Jackins

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00