15 December 2016

It's been too long, and the nature of Fandom Leadership.

Greetings, Programs.

  My posting has been very light this fall, and that's because I spent the last four months as a college professor teaching two sections of Effective Learning.  This was the most satisfying job experience of my life by a long shot.  Helping students adapt to college and being their professor, homeroom teacher and occasionally confidant was an incredible experience.  There are so many students that I'll remember always- and I know they appreciated my help, because they told me so with cards, donuts, and hugs.  My teaching career is on hold for a bit while I find other opportunities in my discipline- my degree is in Military History.  While I'm looking, I'm going to spend more time playing with my awesome kids, and crafting the RPG I've always wanted to write.

  Now, some of you may know I'm involved in organized fandom.  By organized, I mean the kind of clubs that have a structure that seeks to emulate the subject matter of the fandom to which it is dedicated.  Many of those organizations have ranks or noble titles - mine has both.  It also has a unique system of appointment-based leadership from the top all the way down.  No elections.  Now, our chapter chooses to have a vote of confidence each year for our leadership- we feel very strongly about this.  But at the upper echelons, leadership is defined by who the upper management think will do the job well from among the applicable candidates.

  Where problems appear is that while the organization has military trappings, there are of course members with no actual experience in uniform.  Heck, my experience is limited to JROTC, ROTC, and a stint in the Texas State Guard.  But that leads to a very Hollywood idea of how rank works in people who only know what the media shows us.  Plus, there is the sort of effect where people who may not have a lot going on in the rest of their lives grab onto their fandom accolades with both hands and use them to define themselves.  Their self-worth is tied up in what my friend Scott has called "Nerf Rank" for the two decades we've been involved in various forms of fandom together.  And that's when the trouble starts.

  I had a run-in with a member who, despite nearly always treating people poorly on social media, has been appointed to a lofty position.  This member has shown in posts over the last two and a half years that I've been involved a propensity for being snippy, putting on airs of superiority, and generally being kinda nasty to people.  Now, I have a strong suspicion this member fits into the "this is my self-identity and self-worth" category as their noble title was for a while part of their Facebook profile name.  That's kind of a clue right there.  This particular person also had a track record of tagging superiors every time a conversation went a way they did not like, as if to bring Mom and Dad to the thread to end the argument.  Further, many comments were things like "RUDE" or "smh" and the like.  In fact, when called out on casting Summon Brass by myself, the reaction was twofold- 1) "And they wonder why nobody helps them." and 2) "Who the F are YOU?"

  Well... that, to me, is a frightening example of a complete and total misunderstanding of leadership and the way these things work.  First of all, as a member, my rank, title or lack thereof has absolutely nothing to do with my ability and right to express an opinion.  As a member in good standing, I can disagree if I wish.  I can find a behavior abhorrent if I wish, and say so.  Now, as has been pointed out after this encounter took place in any organization we should praise in public, criticize in private, and correct as necessary.  With that in mind I'll hold my fire until fired upon, but to continue...

  When you see something, don't just say "RUDE" or "smh" or passive, uninformative things like that.  What you SHOULD do is take initiative as a leader and try to turn the situation of a disgruntled member into something constructive.  "Why do you feel that way?" or "What leads you to believe this is the case?"  You might find that the person has a legitimate beef, and that it's something that you as a leader can either take care of, or see that it is taken care of.  CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.  It's something I teach my college freshmen in EDUC 1300 as a skill that will help them in college, in the job world, and in the rest of their lives... like fandom.  Don't be inflammatory, be proactive.  Find out what's wrong, and see to it.  That's a leader's job.  Speaking in text-isms and expressing disdain for the opinions and thoughts of those you wrongly believe are inferior to you is just wrong.  It's wrong from a leadership perspective, and from a fandom/fun perspective.  No one is less than anyone else.

  It does not matter what your rank, title, position or anything else in a fan organization is.  You are not in fact superior to anyone else.  Without the lowly newbies and slackers at the bottom of the organization, there is no need for a number of Grand Poobahs to don shiny garb and be showered with rank and title.  Organizations like ours are formed out of the building blocks of individual members, many of which just want to be part of the fun and will never take a promotion exam or rise above the base induction "rank."  Those people are what the club is built on.  Some of them become motivated to do more- they become more active, leading, organizing, helping.  And that's great... and you know what, Leader Person- YOU owe THEM.

  You see, leadership is about taking care of your people.  As a leader, it is your job to plan and execute activities and events to carry out the primary purpose of the organization- which is presumably to have FUN with the flavor of the media your Fandom follows.  This means your job is to SERVE, not to BE SERVED.  You are no better than the rankers who make up the vast majority of the organization.  You have volunteered or accepted a post that means you will do more work than they will, but that is your choice to do so.  If they are smart and conscientious, those members will thank you for the work you put in.  Your leadership will also recognize you for your service - that's THEIR job.  But never - EVER - does a Nerf rank or title entitle you to ask someone "Who the F are YOU?" as if they mean something Monday morning at work.

  You see, that uniform you wear to events might actually get you saluted by members who are savvy enough to know to do so.  What you may not know is that it is precisely as important that you RETURN that salute as it is for the junior member to render it.  Why?  Because the salute is a greeting among members of the profession of arms and, if it is to be emulated by our fandom organization, the junior initiates the salute out of respect for the superior's rank and station... but the superior returns the salute out of respect for the subordinate's own service.  It is a mutual acknowledgement of camaraderie, not an act of submission or dominance.  The latter would have no place in a fandom organization.  It is as if to say "Thank you for running Department X and making sure we all have cool stuff to do!" by the junior, to which the superior says "And thank you for being part of our organization."

  In fact, you might not know this, because it certainly wasn't done in other fandoms I've been a part of, but the seniors do have a tradition when dining with juniors of being served last.  When I was 3BDE OIC in a Star Trek fandom organization, I waited until every single member of the Brigade had been through the chow line or had their dinner plated and served before I ate.  Sometimes when the hotels messed up, that meant I went without until afterward.  That's what a leader does.  You don't demand special treatment because you rank the other club members, you exempt yourself from things so that the rank-and-file members have a shot at awards and special recognition.  It's your responsibility and your job as a leader.

  This exchange has given me a lot to think about.  I got more that a little pointed, and that was wrong of me.  I'll have to take these comments to private message in the future if I see someone treating my people roughly.  It's a club.  It's supposed to be fun.  The rank card has to be played very carefully, in controlled situations and with the consent of all involved.  It's not a cudgel to beat junior members over the head with.  It's a tool to recognize seniority and service, and to help establish a reporting chain within our organization.  I'll be the first to admit that we use it pretty heavily in our own chapter in the way it might be used in an actual military- but many of us are either current/former Guardsmen or prior Federal service.  We're used to it, and it works for us.  But don't imagine that I would ever tell one of my members to shut the hell up because they're a Private and I'm a Major.  That doesn't even compute rationally.  Every Dragoon in my chapter has a right to their opinion and to be heard.  Regardless of their Nerf Rank.

  So... from here on out I'm going to keep my commentary on folks who do this sort of thing in the background, rather than engaging them on Facebook for all to see, unless they press the matter or refuse to stop harassing my friends.  Apparently, defending my mates makes me a "crony" and a "troll" and gets me put on a block list.  Well, I wear that block list as a point of pride.  If you're so insecure in yourself that you must stoop to such asinine, childish levels to protect your ego, well, then...  deedle deedle dee.  My friends and I will go on gaming, attending events, and generally having a ton of fun in our corner of the organization.  We'll send you a postcard.

  Leadership is SERVICE.  Period.  And nobody is so insignificant as to not be worth your time.  Every member is a vital part of what makes our organization great.