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in AA: Ever a Vital Need
By Bill W.
society can function well without able leadership in all
its levels, and AA can be no exception. It must be said,
though, that we AAs sometimes cherish the thought that we
can do without any 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.
other times we are quite as apt to demand that AA's leaders
must necessarily be people of the most sterling judgment,
morals, and inspiration - big doers, prime examples to all,
and practically infallible.
leadership, of course, has to function in between these
entirely imaginary poles of hoped-for excellence. In AA,
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 for 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 every possible service
assignment. We have only to seek these folks out and trust
them to serve us.
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
leader in AA service is therefore a man (or a woman) who
can personally put principles, plans, and policies into
such dedicated and effective action that the rest of us
want to back him up and help him with his job. When a leader
power-drives us badly, we rebel; but when he too meekly
becomes an order-taker and he exercises no judgment of his
own - well, he really isn't a leader at all.
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 idea 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.
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.
"politico" is an individual who is forever trying
to "get the people what they want." A statesman
is an individual who can carefully discriminate when, and
when not to do this. He recognizes that even large majorities,
when badly disturbed 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.
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.
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.
points are practical illustrations of the kinds of careful
discrimination and soul-searching that true leadership must
always try to exercise.
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 flatfooted
to one's conviction about an issue until it is settled.
These are situations for keen timing and a most careful
discrimination as to which course to take.
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 we have those who we like to call
our "destructive" critics. They power-drive, they
are "politickers," they make accusations. Maybe
they are violent, malicious. They pitch gobs of rumors,
gossip, and general scuttlebutt to gain their ends - all
for the good of AA, of course! Well, in AA at least, 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 entirely on how we relate ourselves to
begin with, we ought to listen very 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 even no truth
at all can equally hurt us. That is why we have to listen
so carefully. If they've got the whole truth, or even a
little truth, then we'd better thank them and get on with
our respective inventories, admitting we were wrong, regardless.
If it's nonsense, we can ignore them. 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. We can think of few
better means of self-survey, of developing genuine patience,
than these usually well-meaning but erratic brother members
can afford us. This is always a large order and we shall
sometimes fail to make good on it ourselves. But we must
needs keep trying.
comes that all-important attribute of vision. Vision is,
I think, the ability to make good estimates, both for the
immediate and for the more distant future. Some might feel
this sort of striving to be a son of heresy because we AAs
are constantly telling ourselves, "One day at a time."
But that valued maxim really refers to our emotional lives
and means only that we are not to repine over the past nor
wishfully fantasy or daydream about our future.
individuals and as a Fellowship, we shall surely suffer
if we cast the whole job of planning for tomorrow onto a
kind Providence. God has endowed us human beings with considerable
capability for foresight and he evidently expects us to
use it. Therefore we must needs distinguish between wishful
dreaming for a happy tomorrow and today's use of our powers
of thoughtful estimate - estimate of the kind which we trust
will bring future progress rather than unforeseen woe.
is therefore the very essence of prudence - a sound virtue
if ever there was one. Of course we shall often miscalculate
the future in whole or in part. But even so, this will be
far better than to refuse to think at all.
making of estimates has several aspects. We look at past
and present experience to see what we think it means. From
this, we derive a tentative idea or policy. Looking first
at the nearby future, we ask how our idea or policy might
work. Following this estimate we ask how our policies and
ideas might work under the several differing conditions
that could arise in the longer future. If an idea looks
like a good bet, we try it on - always experimentally, when
that is possible. Somewhat later, we revalue the situation
and ask whether our estimate is, or may soon be, working
about this stage, we may have to take a critical decision.
Maybe we have a policy or plan that still looks fine and
is apparently doing well. Nevertheless we ought to ponder
very carefully what its longtime effect will be. Will today's
nearby advantages boomerang into large liabilities for tomorrow?
The temptation will almost always be to seize the nearby
benefits and quite forget about the harmful precedents or
consequences that we may be setting in motion.
are no fancy theories. We have found that we must use these
principles of estimate constantly, especially at world service
levels where the stakes are high. In public relations, for
example, we must estimate the reaction both of AA groups
and the general public, both short-term and long-term. The
same thing goes for our literature. Our finances have to
be estimated and budgeted. We must think about our service
needs as they relate to general economic conditions, group
capability, and willingness to contribute. On many such
problems we must very often try to think many months and
even years ahead.
a matter of fact, all of AA's Twelve Traditions were at
first questions of estimate and vision for the future. Years
ago we slowly evolved an idea about AA being self-supporting.
There had been trouble here and there about outside gifts.
Then still more trouble developed. Consequently we began
to devise a policy of no outside gifts. We began to suspect
that large sums would tend to make us irresponsible and
could divert us from our primary aim. Finally we saw that
for the long pull, outside money could ruin us utterly.
At this point, what had been just an idea or general policy
hardened firmly down into an AA Tradition. We saw that we
must sacrifice the quick, nearby advantage for long-term
went through this same process on anonymity. A few public
breaks had looked good. But finally the vision came that
many such breaks could raise havoc among us. So it went
- first a gleam in the eye, then an experimental policy,
then a firm policy, and finally a deep conviction - a vision
for tomorrow. Such is our process of estimating the future.
Our responsible world leadership must be especially and
constantly proficient in this vital activity. This is an
ability much to be desired, especially among our trustees,
and I think most of them should be chosen on the basis that
they have already proved their aptness for foresight in
business or professional careers.
shall continually need many of these same attributes, insofar
as they can be had, among our leaders of AA services at
all levels. The principles of leadership will be just about
the same, no matter what the size of the operation.
discussion on leadership may look, at first glance, like
an attempt to stake out a specially privileged and superior
type of AA member. But this is not really so. We are simply
recognizing that our talents vary greatly. The conductor
of an orchestra is not necessarily good at finance or foresight.
And it is even less likely that a fine banker could be much
of a musical success. When, therefore, we talk about AA
leadership, we only declare that we ought select that leadership
on the basis of obtaining the best talent we can find, making
sure that we land that talent, whatever it is, in the spot
where it will do us the most good.
this article was first thought of in connection with our
world service leadership, it is quite possible that many
of its suggestions can be useful to everyone who takes an
active part in our Society.
could this be more true than in the area of Twelfth Step
work itself - something at which nearly all of us most eagerly
work. Every sponsor is necessarily a leader. The stakes
are huge. A human life, and usually the happiness of a whole
family, hangs in the balance. What the sponsor does and
says, how well he estimates the reactions of his prospects,
how well he times and makes his presentation, how well he
handles criticisms, and how well he leads his prospect on
by personal spiritual example - well, these attributes of
leadership can make all the difference, often the difference
between life and death.
God that Alcoholics Anonymous is blessed with so much leadership
in each and all of its great affairs!
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