By April Knight
When a community like the Vineyard faces a crisis, a chain reaction occurs. Information, true or false, spreads from one group to another, like wildfire. Questions, accusations, misinformation, truths, and valid points flow through social networks in an urgent attempt to make sense of the current situation.
It is a satisfying quick fix to blame one person and/or organizational entity for community crisis. It offers an immediate relief to believe that the solution could be as simple as replacing the individual responsible. In some instances, multiple groups get inspired to act, usually led by someone personally affected by the crisis. Although this is contagious and effective for temporary awareness, it is not impactful long-term. Most crises develop over time like an infected wound. It is collective neglect and/or oversight by multiple stakeholders over time on several levels. It may also be a result of a group of leaders holding on to an idealogical narrative that does not fit the current times. The reality is public health crises or big-scale problems are a result of failure at the policy level, programmatic level, and social system level.
All of these individuals are part of an interdependent system, and have responsibilities that dynamically interact with each other. It is a leader’s job to foresee, work effectively, inspire collaboration, and explain to the stakeholders on each level the importance of the collective mission. Leaders who fail to do this ultimately experience intense scrutiny and/or slide into patterns of vague communication, in turn losing the confidence of the people, or worse, sliding into a habit of moral erosion. Moral erosion is the decay of ethical principles once held with verve by an eager, competent leader.
Leadership is not solely executing tasks, attending meetings, or being well-versed in theoretical modalities. It is about listening to the narrative with the intent of understanding the perspective of each subgroup that interacts or benefits from the organization. It is about integrating these needs into a cohesive goal that is meaningful to each and all.
It is about prioritizing initiatives that preserve the integrity of the mission conveyed to the public.
In small communities like the Vineyard, there is great power in the narrative, because it spreads so quickly, but there is also great harm when assumptions are taken as fact. Don’t assume the leader failed; they may have, or it may have been contextual circumstance.
If you truly want to analyze competency of a leader, consider asking the following questions: 1) Did they follow the ethical guidelines set forth by their professional affiliations, created to prevent moral erosion? 2) Did they set goals that reflect multiple stakeholders’ perspectives? 3) Did they work toward those goals over time, and do they have evidence to prove it? 4) Were these goals prioritized based on public safety risk, in particular risks to vulnerable population served by the organization? 5) Were they effective in inspiring others to act to achieve their goals?
April Knight was raised in West Tisbury, and is a doctoral candidate of international psychology with a concentration in organizational systems. She has been a counselor on Martha’s Vineyard for 20 years.