In Leading Minds, Gardner speaks of the importance of leaders embodying their stories. It is through this continuous embodiment of their stories that they inspire their followers, and a failure to maintain this image can unravel their power of influence.
Shannon is an ordinary direct leader, which is to say that her power comes directly from her position as the executive director of Oakwood Arts and that she relates the traditional story of the organization as effectively as possible. To outsiders, this is absolutely true. Shannon works very effectively with donors and organizers to coordinate events that bring meaningful change to the community. She can easily sell others on the goal of increasing accessibility to creative industries for youth facing economic and racial barriers, yet it’s been harder for her to sell me on the same ideal. I’ve struggled to figure out why I am not intrinsically motivated to promote the success of this organization, when its mission of racial equity-building is one I so clearly align with, and have finally discovered the problem–Shannon does not embody the story she is promoting.
Though she preaches about the inaccessibility of art industry careers, I have repeatedly caught her making statements that contradict this story, such as her vehement belief that college shouldn’t be free because it would strip it of value. Her story would seem to suggest that she believes in accessibility and has only created this nonprofit to address a need that currently exists. But as a well-off college professor and founder of a nonprofit organization, Shannon has much to gain both from the continued operation of Oakwood Arts and the elitism of the college system, which her moderate beliefs only confirm.
Shannon’s failure to uphold and embody her story as a leader makes it challenging for her followers (like me) to take her mission seriously. While I love Oakwood Arts as an idea, I feel less motivated in practice by my overall confusion with the purpose of the organization due to Shannon’s inconsistency of principles. I’m not the only employee to struggle with commitment to the organization. If Shannon wants to secure her following, she needs to embody the mission and vision of her organization with her demonstration of personal values. And if she can’t do that, perhaps she should change the mission and vision to reflect her true story.