And that brings me to the leaders. Oh, the leaders.
The statement slightly sexuality slandering about hairdressers advancing to Executive Directorship was so apropos that though it was coined by a man whose clay feet eventually left a feces-like mudslide behind, it has come to be the measurement by which I look at leadership within LGBT organizations. Of the handful I’ve experienced and worked with closely they were hampered first by the nature of again, where the majority of the funding came from; the corruption of values and morals and that the figurative left handed managerial stance, lacked a creative, innovative, educated and strategic right hand to create, not simply an LGBT service provider but a true, successful business. It seems that it should seem obvious that in order to maintain an LGBT organization you would want it to be a prosperous business but the places I was at are bedeviled by the mentality that hampers and destabilizes and demoralizes countless companies, inappropriate leadership.
The word leadership, particularly in my teaching world---non-profit, educational, academic is often tossed around without a quantification of what it means. I personally think of Cyclops and Storm from the X-Men. When a leadership training component is suggested and the deliberation for end goal outcome abilities for the clients is bandied about, I think are we trying to create a Cyclops or a Storm? Or maybe a Jack Welch or a Martha Stewart? Reginald Lewis? Reginald Johnson? Suzanne DePasse? Chew Guevara? Malcolm X? Gandhi? Bernadette Devlin? How are we defining leadership and what kinds of leaders do we need? Notice I pluralize the word leader. There is always a need for multiple leaders and multiple kinds of leaders. The hubris I’ve seen in Executive Directors and their subordinates has been contrary to that thought, hence the ailing disintegration of multiple organizations over the years.
Beware of any program you or your nearest and dearest are entering as a client or professionally that can’t quantify leadership to the three forms first: managerial, visionary and strategic and then answer what kind of leadership they’re aiming to instill and what kind of outcome they expect from their endeavors. Most leadership programs at LGBT organizations end up being bullshit because of the lack of understanding, first by the leadership in control of establishing them what leadership is in its three forms and more incisively, what kind of leaders they are and therefore will impose as their vision of leadership. For years I’ve watched control, domination and ego be what passes for leadership and in spite of internal and external efforts to change, the reigning mentality has torn them asunder. However again, HIV and leadership are key funding friendly words. You know the whole plan is cockeyed and on the road to perdition, in my experience, when either goal is named during conception/creation time and that the train is way off the tracks when they’re publicly advertising too much of both.
But I’m perhaps being unfair in not describing through clear definitions the kinds of leaders, their merits and weaknesses and what they look like so that you can picture for yourself how the integration of all is necessary.
Managerial leaders are:
· reactive; adopt passive attitudes towards goals; goals arise out of necessities, not desires and dreams; goals based on, past
· view work as an enabling process involving some combination of ideas and people interacting to establish strategies
· relate to people according to their roles in the decision- making process
· see themselves as conservators and regulators of existing order; sense of who they are depends on their role in organization
· influence actions and decisions of those with whom they work
· involved in situations and contexts characteristic of day-to- day activities
· concerned with, and more comfortable in, functional areas of responsibilities
· expert in their functional area
· less likely to make value-based decisions
· engage in, and support, short-term, least-cost behavior to enhance financial performance figures
· focus on managing the exchange and combination of explicit knowledge and ensuring compliance to standard operating procedures
· utilize linear thinking
· believe in determinism, that is, the choices they make are determined by their internal and external environments
Visionary leaders are:
· proactive, shape idea, change “the way" people think about what is desirable, possible, and necessary
· work to develop choices, fresh approaches to long standing problems; work from high-risk positions
· are concerned with ideas, relate to people in intuitive and empathetic ways
· feel separate from their environment; work in, but do not belong to, organizations; sense of who they are does not depend on work
· influence attitudes and opinions of others within the organization
· concerned with insuring future of organization, especially through development and management of people
· more embedded in complexity, ambiguity and information overload; engage in multifunctional, integrative tasks
· know less than their functional area experts more likely to make decisions based on values .
· more willing to invest in innovation, human capital, and creating and maintaining an effective culture to ensure long-term viability
· focus on tacit knowledge and develop' strategies as communal forms of tacit knowledge that promote enactment of a vision
· utilize nonlinear thinking
· believe in strategic choice, that is, their choices make a .difference in their organizations and environment
Strategic leaders are:
· synergistic combination of managerial and visionary leadership
· emphasis on ethical behavior and value-based decisions
· oversee operating (day-to-day) and strategic (long-term) responsibilities
· formulate and implement strategies for immediate impact and preservation of long-term goals to enhance organizational survival, .growth, and long-term viability
· have strong, positive expectations of the performance they expect from their superiors, peers, subordinates, and themselves
· use strategic controls and financial controls, with emphasis on strategic controls
· use, and interchange, tacit and explicit knowledge on individual and organizational levels
· use linear and nonlinear thinking patterns
· believe in strategic choice, that is, their choices" make a difference in their organizations and environment
In 5 LGBT organizations I worked for or under 1 managerial leader and 4 Visionary leaders, hence the layoffs, firings, piss poor integrity, vanity battles and general financial ruin they've all suffered (and continue to spin around the drain from.)
At one organization, wrangled in, I looked around at the whole business set-up, the level of services and production and the leaders themselves and estimated that they would collapse in two years. Technically speaking it occurred in 23 months. There was some emergency triage attempts to pull it back together but by then I had accepted a contract elsewhere and to examine the firm now---all senior management has left or been replaced, the membership has dwindled to staff and friends of staff, the funding was internally sabotaged so it’s already rapidly eroded and the work, all important for the community, has over a decade amounted to not even hill of substantial beans, more like small, calcified beans. Which is a horrendous shame because the Visionary Leaders had a good vision….but damn that spotlight of ego didn't seduce both into following the path of least integrity. In fact personally, having loved the play Macbeth for years, I marveled at how the crossover with Othello occurred so rapidly within the organization, precipitating its downfall. This agency was evicted out of their office, set another one up under the aegis of a community leader, lied to…the CDC in an attempt to get more gravy train funding and has since risen from the ocean depths, like little shards of broken glass, indistinguishable from the glittery community. By that clever metaphor I mean that so many members have re-christened, re-created, re-established, and reiterated the organization in churches, basements, apartments and once a school gymnasium, drawing in a loyal but ineffectual dozen or two, that another organization leader outlined to me, quite succinctly, how they were at heart and best, a cult.
Another organization went very King Lear, with varying factions under the titular Visionary Leader fighting against one another because of their inability to unify against the Visionary Leader. Anyone of professionalism and education abandoned the organization, the passive aggressiveness and general mental health turmoil being too much for anyone of sanity to tolerate. Of course during this time, much like the first organization, the CDC was cutting funding each and every year, which tightened salaries, lessened chances for promotion, minimized healthcare (the irony at one organization I was at was that for all their salvos at the world about LGBT rights---they wouldn't pay for same sex partner healthcare), lowered social expectations, a clientele that was then at one point close to 80% HIV+ men which in turn meant that again our social measurements of poverty were disproportionately present to healthy men…and healthy men avoided the agency in droves. The norm became programming from the CDC and Welfare agencies; in effect a vibrant organization was turned into a poverty based soup kitchen that ironically was bested by multiple other organizations that could provide housing, financial assistance, medical care, social groups and even the basics of food to HIV infected men. The clientele stopped by for the odd Metrocard and occasional freebie cash or trips from surveys sponsored by…..the CDC. Even, impossibly HIV testing dried up as the testing services just became a revolving door for HIV+ men to re-test for the free cash and Metrocard.
The third organization, lead by a Visionary Leader began an escorting service. I kid you not. The staff also began sponsoring sex parties in their home; pimping out younger clientele; demanding sexual favors for services; using the Social Security numbers of the homeless to boost their own tax returns; taking extravagant trips, buying designer luggage and opening high credit limit charge cards for personal use. Literally it was Sodom and Gomorrah personified. One could not be expected to survive in such a climate as an employee because much like the last Jim Jones Revival, you were either drinking the Kool-Aid or figuratively executed for refusing.
The fourth agency was investigated routinely by the IRS for mismanagement and mis-reporting of funds, the State for misappropriation of funds, the police for drug dealing and by several intrepid reporters/bloggers who created a Dorothy Parker at the Algonquin inspired spiked tea and crumpets website geared towards anonymously writing about the often accurate shenanigans going on at agencies. The highlights being the Executive Director really earned the enmity of hundreds, if not thousands of men of color who found his Rottweiler-esque personality to be so abrasive that poverty, ostracism and even occasionally hunger, were preferable to coming to his agency or when the time came for his demise, aid. Even the most inoculated to his acidic personality couldn't help but smirk when he was fired.
From what I understand, the Ding, Dong the Witch Is Dead party thrown by staff, the Board of Directors, clients and quite a bit of the LGBT community was so crowded that it spanned not only days but two boroughs. I got, no lie, 14 emails about his termination and was stopped in the supermarket by a triad of former clients, now confirmed heroin addict to ecstatically tell me the news. Then a few weeks later I bumped into a co-worker, who told me again. Then I got some more emails with attachments to several articles written in newspapers and blogs about it. Then I got an email and phone call from an Executive Director of another agency who wanted to share tea and crumpets about what had happened. You can’t make this stuff up!
The fifth agency simply eroded from not being able to turn the Titanic mass of itself away from the inevitable iceberg of the CDC. Or better yet, once lodged into the iceberg of the CDC, it threw all engines into reverse---the wrenching free tearing a significant hole in the hull of the ship and to this day, CDC ice chunks lodged and trailing, it lists away, slowly sinking as clients, HIV+ overwhelmingly, no longer in death throes but due to medical advances, chronic throes, abandon ship. However as we know no clients, no proof of services being rendered and therefore no funding. Unfortunately every one sat on the deck of this LGBT Titanic sympathizing with their and others HIV for so long that practical, useful, vocational and profitable skills weren't offered in programming until it was too late. Their investment in their clientele didn't generate as the investment in any community would a bulwark of men to turn back and assist and aid the agency. Which is the great cost of focusing on only one aspect of poverty so intensely---you don’t cure any of the others….so when the wolves of karma come for these agencies, there are no warriors in their clientele, past or present to stave them off.
The specific question to me, several times from others was why didn't I stay and fight the good fight; turn the places around, change the climate if I knew the impending disasters on the horizons?
Honestly, most times I was outnumbered by inequity.
At one agency, a true Strategic Leader left and without his presence, I knew the organization was now on the E Ticket ride to failure, so I left.
Another time I sensed the financial maelstrom of mismanagement about to be revealed, politely refused to submit grants or sign anything financially related and resigned a few weeks before the IRS stepped in and closed them down.
For most of them I often wondered if I wanted my destiny to be marred by this kind of social fight against other men of color to institute order, integrity, responsibility, accountability---manhood into the “community”. It was often with a heavy heart I left, my last works to transfer the neediest clients to better agencies, better services, and better life possibilities. I realized within the decade experience that for me personally and professionally it gave me a solid lens to focus my education through; it gave me a solid Petri dish to watch all these machinations and madness inspired shenanigans transpire; it gave me an insight into how and why men of color who are LGBT undercut themselves when handed the opportunity to progress their sub-community and that gave me greater insight into the Black and Latino community. The fears and biases that prevented LGBT agencies from logically partnering with non-heterosexual agencies (once to the loss of $75,000 in a weekend---but myself and the other agency coordinators, risking our jobs because our “leaders” couldn’t agree how to split the money, covertly started programming with that funding to get it to the HIV- and HIV+ clients alike; guerrilla transformational work, indeed!) and reaping the social and material rewards of a larger community that isn’t in total opposition to LGBT people of color.
I learned a lot about leadership, about what kind to desire to be, what kind not and what kind to avoid working for. Much like the coordinator who I inadvertently inspired to leave his position, I inspired myself with my accumulated work to press on higher, to greater educational goals and teaching expansiveness. A few days ago I was looking at the demographics of my television show, videos, books and blogs and saw that I was being read/viewed in among dozens of other places, Zimbabwe, China, New Zealand, Portugal, Greece, France, Canada, Brazil, India, the United Arab Emirates! The handful of agencies I worked for landmines, lily pads and sinkholes alike, I would've never embarked on such a globally expansive career. I looked at my accumulated boxes upon boxes of materials and thoughts and notes and memories and realized that I could coalesce it in some ways, I could codify it and more importantly disperse it throughout a world community, to achieve some of that parity I was always seeking.
Somewhere, someone is agreeing, disagreeing, considering my work beyond simply my own experienced context of the term men of color as African American and Latino---I’m talking real men of color throughout the world. The world. Really colored men, all over the world, who recognize something within their hearts, their minds, their souls that says to them their sexuality is something else, not simply heterosexual as we define it, perhaps one of the myriadical other sexualities possible in a human.
Going into that meeting a decade ago, looking for fellowship, companionship, friendship I could’ve never dreamed I’d get such an education and avocation to what I’ve taken my learning and created. I was thinking recently about a relative, a good person, give or take, who works at a very uninteresting, tedious job; that eats nearly the same thing every day; that watches the same level of TV and then washes his clothes and repeats his life the next week. I was thinking about the 15 years he’s spent at this current job and I was wondering other than the monetary pay a week and the material survival that brings---what had it actualized or manifested into his life? What had it manifested into the community around him at large?
Then I turned the question back on myself, I review my life and its winding roads often so that I don’t fear the future, and I realized my relative hadn't been anywhere that really challenged him to learn a new field, become an expert, tested his manhood (integrity, responsibility, accountability), blossomed into seeds of work that spreads across the Earth. I put up a world atlas over a wall (I use it in classes sometimes) and I started putting little post it strips onto places where the demo-graphical survey has shown my readers/viewers. I would've never electronically traversed the world without these faulty organizations, without my outrage and frustration and disgust at them. I wouldn't continue to do so, getting bigger and bigger, receiving so many communiques from distant lands, I’ll probably never see without the above described organizations. Even in their madness, if personally honed, if walked away from, if ignored and even if seen clearly, they have value. The individual can make it what I term anti-mentors, those who teach us what not to do and not to be and inspire us to do something good, useful and educational.
If you’re personally in, as an employee or a client, such a mix, such a madness, know that you can take the bile, the lessons, the foolishness and act out the vision, perhaps with some consciousness and strategic editing, but know that the individual can transcend the poverty of some LGBT men of color and the misshapen organizations they form and affect and effect the world. And more importantly broader than clients meetings that are often focused on one disease, chicken and chairs and piteous emoting, corrupted staff members and gross mismanagement, you can transcend all that rubbish and strike out, strategically again, to truly advancing the community of African and Latino LGBT to its desperate need of eliminating and mitigating all forms of poverty that riddle it.
Thank you for reading.
Thanks and enjoy!
Thank you for reading.
Thanks and enjoy!
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Kyle Phoenix, 2014
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