Leading with Reluctance: The Strategy of the Recluse

It works, but you're still doing it wrong.

When Ferdinand wrote about his reasons for launching In Mala Fide 3.0, it caused me to reflect upon my own experiences. Alte called him out for his position of leadership in whatever you might call this community. She had said “I know you guys don’t like to think of yourselves as leaders because leadership is a burden…but leaders aren’t defined by self-declaration. Leaders are defined by the fact that they’re followed.” What follows could be described as my personal philosophy of leadership. Take it for what it is worth.

I have been in leadership positions for much of my life and I would characterize my leadership style as “reluctant” at best. I don’t like the burden but I’ve been in many situations where I could tell no one else was capable of shouldering it. Some of these positions were trivial, such as leading a video gaming clan and teaching casual players how to play to win. Others were more serious, such as being an assistant manager for a high volume store, responsible for managing the inventory and the professional growth + training of the employees under me. And others were “no joke,” as the kids say, such as shouldering the hopes and dreams of an entire company of Marines as I conveyed their grievances to our battalion commander. Writing this post will be somewhat in violation of my own principles; in order to talk about my strategies I must tell you my successes and I wouldn’t normally do that, but I digress.

I’m retiring from an organization which is obsessed with leadership and cultivating leaders. It has been my experience that most people have a lot of misconceptions about effective leadership. Many think of the archetypal authoritarian – say the hard ass manager on a factory line, or the snub-nosed Drill Instructor at boot camp – as the ideal. But their power is more often the power of fear than it is of respect, and a fearful person will only provide the bare minimum output required to avoid repercussion; contrast this to the person who will willingly go above and beyond for a leader they respect and admire.

Cultivating respect isn’t as hard as you might think it is. I’ve found that there are certain tricks that work very well. It is an irony of effective leadership that in order to lead you must not be thought of as striving to be a leader; by this I mean to say people cannot and should not view you as power hungry or out for personal gain. Humility is key in this regard, and I usually go one step further than downplaying my abilities. Rather than being merely humble, I exaggerate my weaknesses. For example, when I receive a compliment about my intelligence, I deflect it by saying something like “I’m just a high school drop out who enlisted in the Marine Corps – what do I know?”

Another “trick” is to be consistent. Consistency is best achieved by adopting (cringe now or forever hold your peace) morals and ethics. You cannot just say that you believe in something; you must demonstrably live your life according to the virtues you espouse. After all, honor, integrity, valor, courage, arete, and virtue, are just words. This is where “leadership by example” comes into play. In a sense, a leader must be much better than his followers, or they wouldn’t follow him; yet he cannot boast about his worth, or his followers may begin to distrust his motives and intentions or otherwise undermine his efficacy.

Dependability is similar to consistency but fairly important. (I suppose I could just write a dissertation on the “14 leadership traits” of the Marine Corps – easily remembered with the mnemonic device JJ DID TIE BUCKLE which stands for  justice, judgment, dependability, initiative, decisiveness, tact, integrity, enthusiasm, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty and endurance – which are all quite good, but I have a more specific focus here.) Your word must be your bond and people must know they can count on you to do what you say you will do. If you are humble, consistent and dependable, you will cultivate a lot of respect. When the opportunity for leadership presents itself, people will be inclined to follow you if you seize the initiative.

But respect isn’t necessarily the best thing to cultivate if you’re looking to be a leader. Love is. Love in the West has become a stupid concept, but the ancient Greeks had four words to describe it, and I am talking about these other conceptualizations of love, rather than the romantic/passionate kind that English has come to imply. In particular, “philia” or “brotherly love” is particularly worthwhile. You might think that being in the Marine Corps gives me some automatic philia with every other Marine, but this is usually only the case amongst veterans; not amongst active duty Marines. Especially when you are new to a unit or otherwise serving with Marines you don’t yet know, you must cultivate philia.

This is done by first winning their respect but going beyond that. You must strive to be the best at something which matters; have some kind of skill or proficiency that others do not. (It would theoretically be best to be the best at everything, but that’s rather difficult.) When I was leading my video game clan, I was the best at organizing everyone and calling out our team’s strategies, dictating the tempo and flow of matches. When I was promoted to assistant manager, it was because I was the top salesman and one of the best repairmen in the shop (we sold and repaired watches and clocks). I built a reputation for myself quickly in the Marine Corps by demonstrating my technical acumen; as a Lance Corporal (a rank acquired after a paltry year or so of service) I was holding the billet (or job) of a Staff Sergeant (a rank acquired after eight to twelve years of service).

I was never – never – the strongest Marine, or the fastest Marine. Physical fitness is key in the Marine Corps and I was lacking it. However, I earned the respect and even philia of men who were in much better shape than me, and this in turn made it easier for others to respect me as well. (“Well, if Roidrage thinks Durden is a pretty cool guy who doesn’t afraid of anything, why shouldn’t I?”) I tried as best I could to have my friends’ back and take care of them – be it with work related problems or personal problems (often related to manosphere stuff – bitches be triflin’, 24/7). If I couldn’t personally figure something out for them, I’d find a way to get it figured out.

I became the company’s hero – earning the respect of just about everyone regardless of rank or time in service, aside from the company commander and 1stSgt who I had burned by my actions – when I compiled a list of all the things that were fucked up (and according to military law, illegal) that had been going on around the company and took it to the battalion commander. The key here is that I went and did something. Other leaders were not stepping up to the plate to correct these issues and I wasn’t content to stand around and be miserable, or watch everyone else be miserable either. I demonstrated to everyone that I could put my money where my mouth was when I told them I was concerned with justice and integrity and what not.

I never served in combat, and again, I wasn’t the rough ‘n tumble type. Even still, I had my Gunnery Sergeant (who had done 10 years in the infantry and seen combat) tell me I was a true leader and I had many express that they would follow my direction in a war zone. This gets down to something often neglected in our declining times, something Generation Zero could generally give a fuck less about – character. Hedonists and nihilists and degenerates are fun and all, but they have no character.

If you want to lead, a noble spirit and virtuous character – shown through action and not so much through words – go a long way. But I would advise that you do not be an overachiever; do not be greedy or lustful for leadership opportunities. You learn much by being at the bottom, least of which is learning about the people you intend to lead. When the time comes and the current leadership fails, and if you have been cultivating respect and philia, people will readily start accepting your suggestions. As Alte said, leaders are followed, and this is a different thing entirely than merely having authority over someone. (Authority obligates; leadership inspires.)

12 thoughts on “Leading with Reluctance: The Strategy of the Recluse

  1. Nice article.

    I’ve also been a reluctant leader when necessary and the way I always thought about it was that you cannot fundamentally force people to follow you, and I mean really follow you. Sure, you can put a gun to their heads and “lead” them but that’s not leadership; they’ll never give one ounce of effort more than they have to and they’ll fuck you over hard given half a chance.

    Real leadership requires people to give you authority over them voluntarily and you can’t get them to do that through threats. Leading from the front is the way to go IMO: first in and last out.

    That said, personally I’m a nihilist and a hedonist. I don’t see any objective meaning to life, which makes it all the more important to give my life whatever meaning I choose, and I enjoy maximizing pleasure while minimizing pain. But YMMV.

    I don’t think the two are incompatible with being a leader per se, but I could be wrong. It’s so easy I’ve done it a million times.

  2. There’s no such damn thing as an Internet Leader or some eLeader.

    Women, Liberals and minorities did NOT phone it in when taking over this country; they showed up in person.

    Now, males must do the same.
    Good luck.

  3. Excellent article J.

    It always warms my heart to read your articles,they are so descriptive I feel I know you a bit.

    I thought I saw a comment by a REMF.
    I have no idea about the character of the REMF as he has not bared his soul as you have.

    Not always does one awshit wipe out 1000 attaboys!


  4. Not a lot of comments on this article, but it is among one of the best I have read in a long time. I look forward to others by J. Durden.

  5. There’s no such damn thing as an Internet Leader or some eLeader.

    Nothing I talked about has to do with being an “Internet Leader” or an “eLeader” with perhaps the exception of my mentioning the gaming clan I used to head up. However, we all knew each other in real life, too.

    Practicing how to play to win in video games actually taught me a lot of skills which transferred well to other spheres of my life.

    To everyone else – thanks for the positive comments.

  6. J. Durden

    Practicing how to play to win in video games actually taught me a lot of skills which transferred well to other spheres of my life.

    I hear ya – that’s good stuff: tons of kids learned important Life Lessons from playing Cowboys n’ Indians – even Chutes N’ Ladders.

  7. @Rollo Tomassi

    Awesome that I’m not the only one who noticed. I was like “yaaa he’s got a powerfist too.” I used to play back in middle school… Imperial Guard f that Space Marine bs

  8. Sorry for getting off topic, but great article. Whether at work or among my friends, throughout my life I have found myself getting put in leadership positions through no desire of my own. Listening to other people, wanting to help them, being decisive, and being humble goes a long way I guess.

  9. Pingback: The Herd Giveth and the Herd Taketh Away

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