Leadership in AA: Ever A Vital Need

From the AA Service Manual, Twelve Concepts for World Service – by Bill W., Concept IX, page 36

No society can function well without able leadership in all its levels, and A.A. can be no exception.  It must be said, though, that we A.A’s sometimes cherish the thought that we can do without much personal leadership at all.  We are apt to warp the traditional idea of “principles before personalities” around to such a point that there would be no “personality” in leadership whatever.  This would imply rather faceless automatons trying to please everybody, regardless.

At other times we are quite as apt to demand that A.A.’s leaders must necessarily be people of the most sterling judgment, morals, and inspirations; big doers, prime examples of all, and practically infallible.

Real leadership, of course, has to function in between these entirely imaginary poles of hoped-for excellence.  In A.A. certainly no leader is faceless, and neither is any leader perfect.  Fortunately our Society is blessed with any amount of real leadership – the active people of today and the potential leaders of tomorrow as each new generation of able members swarms in.  We have an abundance of men and women whose dedication, stability, vision, and special skills make them capable of dealing with eary possible service assignment.  We have only to seek these folks out and trust them to serve us.

Somewhere in our literature there is a statement to this effect:  “Our leaders do not drive by mandate, they lead by example.”  In effect, we are saying to them, “Act for us, but don’t boss us.”

A leader in A.A. service is therefore a man (or woman) who can personally put principles, plans and policies into such dedicated and efective action that the rest of us want to back him up and help him with his job.  When a leader power-dives us badly, we rebel; but when he too meekly becomes an order-taker and he exercises no jedgment of his own-well, he really isn’t a leader at all.

Good leadership originates plans, policies, and ideas for the improvement of our Fellowship and its services.  But in new and important matters, it will nevertheless consult widely before taking decisions and actions.  Good leadership will also remember that a fine plan or dea can come from anybody, anywhere.  Consequently, good leadership will often discard its own cherished plans for others that are better, and it will give credit to the source.

Good leadership never passes the buck.  Once assured that it has, or can, obtain sufficient general backing, it freely takes decisions and puts them into action forthwith, provided of course that such actions be within the framework of its defined authority and responsibility.

A “politico” is an individual who is forever trying to “get the people what they want.”  A statesman is an individual who ca carefully discriminate when and when not to do this.  He recognizes that even large majorities, when badly distrubed or uninformed, can, once in a while, be dead wrong.  When such an occasional situation arises, and something very vital is at stake, it is always the duty of leadership, even when in a small minority, to take a stand against the storm, using its every ability of authority and persuasion to effect a change.

Nothing, however, can be more fatal to leadership than opposition for opposition’s sake.  It never can be “Let’s have it our way or no way at all.”  This sort of opposition is often powered by a visionless pride or a gripe that makes us want to block something or somebody.  Then there is the opposition that casts its vote saying, “No, we don’t like it.”  No real reasons are ever given.  This won’t do.  When called upon, leadership must always give its reasons, and good ones.

Then, too, a leader must realize that even very prideful or angry people can sometimes be dead right, when the calm and the more humble are quite mistaken.

These points are practical illustrations of the kinds of careful discrimination and soul-searching that true leadership must always try to exercise.

Another qualification for leadership is “give and take,” the ability to compromise cheerfully whenever a proper compromise can cause a situation to progress in what appears to be the right direction.  Compromise comes hard to us “all-or-nothing” drunks.  Nevertheless we must never lose sight of the fact that progress is nearly always characterized by a series of improving compromises.  We cannot, however, compromise always.  Now and then it is truly necessary to stick flat-footed to one’s conviction about an issue until it is settled.  These are situations for keen timing and careful discrimination as to which course to take.

Leadership is often called upon to face heavy and sometimes long-continued criticism.  This is an acid test.  There are always the constructive critics; our friends indeed.  We ought never fail to give them a careful hearing.  We should be willing to let them modify our opinions or change them completely.  Often, too, we shall have to disagree and then stand fast without losing their friendship.

Then there are those whom we like to call our “destructive” critics.  They power-dirve, they are “politickers,” they make accusations.  Maybe they are violent, malicious.  They pitch gobs of rumors, gossip, and general scuttle-butt to gain their ends-all for the good of A.A., of course!  But in A.A. we have at last learned that these folks, who may be a trifle sicker than the rest of us, need not be really destructive at all, depending very much on how we relate ourselves to them.

To begin with, we ought to listen carefully to what they say.  Sometimes they are telling the whole truth; at other times, a little truth.  More often, though, they are just rationalizing themselves into nonsense.  If we are within range, the whole truth, the half truth, or no truth at all can prove equally unpleasant to us.  that is why we have to listen so carefully.  If they have got the whole truth, or even a little truth, then we had better thank them and get on with our respective inventories, admitting we were wrong.  It it is nonsense, we can ignore it.  Or we can lay all the cards on the table and try to persuade them.  Failing this, we can be sorry they are too sick to listen, and we can try to forget the whole business.  There are few better means of self-survey and of developing genuine patience, than the work-outs these usually well-meaning but erratic brother members afford us.  This is always a large order and we shall sometimes fail to make good on it ourselves.  But we must keep trying.

Now we come to the all-important attribute of vision.




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