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Recipe For Effective Leadership
9/28/2016 2:49:39 PM

By Barney Blakeney 

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been bothered by a criticism I received. I should be used to criticism; I get it from time to time. But like most people, I don’t want to be criticized. However I’ve learned that criticism can be a positive thing, even if it’s meant to be negative. Criticism used constructively can be turned into a positive. That’s what I try to do. Still don’t like it though.

So when I got the call criticizing my comments in a recent column about ineffective black leadership, I asked myself was the criticism valid? I’ve learned that in the business of news gathering you often get varying, even conflicting information. I’ve found that in such cases, the real deal usually lays some place between the extremes. It’s a theory I apply to most things in my life. I asked myself where I was on the leadership thing. After the conversation with my critic, I didn’t feel compelled to change my opinion. But I don’t think I convinced my critic to change his opinion either.

I had another concern about the criticism. Anybody can sit around and criticize. More useful is offering solutions. My critic asked how I think black leadership can be more effective. I think ‘so-called’ black leaders might be more effective if they had more contact with their constituents.

Say what you will or may about former Charleston Sen. Robert Ford, but he was one of the few black community leaders who regularly kept in contact with his constituency.

Perhaps Ford didn’t ask as many questions as he should, but he always kept his people informed. He still sends out a lot of information! Most black community leaders have adopted a paternalistic approach to leadership – they tell us what we should be doing instead of asking us what we want to do. That’s if they do anything at all.

That’s one of the problems with ineffective black leadership; we allow people to stay in positions of leadership even though they may not do what it takes to successfully fill the position. Why on earth do we allow someone to stay in a position if when we look at their record of accomplishments we can’t point to anything substantial? Can you say symbolism without substance?

I know a person who is the salt of the earth. This person has a heart of gold and only wants to help others. Wonderful person and hard worker for our community, but ain’t got a clue about organizing people and their communities or the vision to take the black community to the next level.

Policy makers love this person and uplift the person. They understand that ineffective leadership renders our community impotent. And they know we’ll allow this person to remain in place because we are an emotional, compassionate lot. Consequently our community is rife with under-education, crime, poverty and displacement.

Since my conversation with my latest critic I’ve seen some things and talked to some people to get ideas about effective leadership beyond what I think. I read an op-ed piece in the local daily newspaper I think contributes mightily to ineffective leadership in the black community. It focused on political leadership. Of course ineffective political leadership is only one aspect of the problem with leadership in the black community. But I think the article points to a dynamic that affects black folks more acutely.

Generally fewer than 25 percent of S.C. General Assembly seats are being contested in November. Among black legislators, that number drops to single digit figures. That might not be so bad except that when you look at the conditions in black communities one has to ask why black legislators stay in office so long when their districts continue to suffer long term disparities?

Black legislators complain about a conservative legislature that won’t pass anything that helps black and brown poor people, but they don’t complain about conservative legislators who gerrymander legislative districts to perpetuate their power, which consequently perpetuates black legislators’ longevity in office. We’ve got black politicians who have been in office 15, 20, 25 years! They’ll get a lucrative pension, but their constituents only have gotten more of the same old inequities.

Some of those people are friends of mine. Many are people whom I highly respect. But I’m disappointed that so many of the people whom I know to be good and caring individuals are so selfish they have not moved over to make room for others who may better be able to serve. I’m disappointed they have not used their power and positions to identify and develop new talent.

This thing about being more effective ain’t that hard, ya’ll. Other folks do it every day! It takes hard work, but it ain’t rocket science. And cooperation makes the task easier. I’m looking at how this new group, the Quality Education Project, is developing. Only a couple of years old, the organization is expanding. And while some established black leaders in education are fighting them, QEP is undaunted.

Okay, I’m gonna say it – them white folks will not tolerate Charleston County School District’s dysfunctional school system as black folks have done for the past 30 years.

They’re coming back into the public school system and they’re demanding a better system paid for with their tax dollars. Rather than fight them, black folks might do better to emulate them.

I spoke with another black community leader I think is doing a pretty good job. I asked labor organizer Leonard Riley his thoughts on effective leadership. He said he feels the most effective leaders are those who come out of their respective realities. In other words, the most effective leaders of people are those who come from among the people.

Leaders should identify with those they lead. That’s the first prerequisite, Riley said. Knowing the job is just as important, he added. No matter how well meaning a leader might be, if the leader doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing, all you’ve got is a fool leading other fools. An effective leader is a capable leader and a capable leader is a fighter who can make adjustments, Riley said. Tactics that worked in 1960 may not work in 2016.

Effective leadership takes a combination of skills. I may not have all the answers to the questions of effective leadership in the black community, but I know Black communities must identify and support those who possess those skills.

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