Of Shepherds, Sheep & The Herd
By Miles DeSouza
Illustration Dana Veraldi
We are only as strong as our weakest link.
We are greater than the sum of our parts.
It takes a village.
Though trite, these proverbs and idioms that speak of the power of community still ring true decades after their utterance. For as long as I’ve been aware, communities of like-minded individuals have rallied together to spur great change, be it in politics (the Black Panther movement or Democratic Socialist Party), design (Antwerp Six or Bauhaus), or the myriad industries and collective groupings between them. We have an affinity as humans to gravitate towards groups that espouse our perceived values and speak to our sensibilities both latent and demonstrated. This, however, shouldn’t exactly be new news.
But somewhere along the road, likely for diplomatic purposes, we found it worthwhile to internally appoint leaders to represent these communities, large and small. Crafted with the intention of being the community mouthpiece, leaders, in a certain sense, streamline ideologies. An agent of synergy, perhaps. So, rather than talking to groups of thousands, we could speak to one who, presumably, voiced their values and mirrored the canon of the community.
I’m going to give you the footnotes on learned history here, but, in a similarly cliched breath, with this title comes great responsibility and the role of the leader became exploited for power and influence. We see the effect of malpractice today on macro and micro levels through examples as large as the tainted South African presidency of Jacob Zuma and the market manipulation of “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli to as small (comparatively) as culturally distasteful designs from Phillip Plein and Steve Stoute’s needless, and horribly defended, appointment to Knicks brass. These are just a few examples of leaders who reflect poorly on their constituency, defecting from their purpose while they put personal ideologies and opinions before that of the “village” who they’re supposed to consult and serve.
The idea here, though, is to not slander the role of the leader, but to put under a proverbial microscope how its responsibilities have, over time, seemingly morphed to embody someone that we can allow to sit above the community through power and control, rather than sitting beside the community in communion and solidarity—which, in my opinion, is the duty of a cultural or political figurehead.
“For me, this is a beneficial relationship. One that drives community and leadership closer while fostering a tie that separates any negative connotations of managerial oversight or divide, effectively integrating the leadserhip role back into the masses instead of creating the Us vs. Them divide so common in corporate environments.”
Take Team Epiphany— a shameless plug, sure, but also a great example of a symbiotic dynamic of shared values and habits between leadership and community—our cultural perspectives and nuanced approaches to fashion, art, politics, or music feed off of each other to create a place where everyone plays a unique role within the larger puzzle—regardless of rank. And in many ways, this seems to be by design.
Our fearless leaders, Coltrane Curtis and Lisa Chu, created an environment where their empowering beliefs and cultural milieu have manifested through the individuals—the wider Team Epiphany fam—and our shared commonality across culture, philosophy, ethics, morals, and so on. The result is a community, a family as we like to say, whose work is reflective of the unit rather than the singularity of the C-suite. Ultimately, there is a sense of unity that tangibly reverberates through the halls of our newly minted office.
For me, this is a beneficial relationship. One that drives community and leadership closer while fostering a tie that separates any negative connotations of managerial oversight or divide, effectively integrating the leadserhip role back into the masses instead of creating the Us vs. Them divide so common in corporate environments.
Without taking too much away from the role of “the leader,” I believe that we must interrogate the dynamic it shares with its constituents, unpacking the ties between ideologies of communities and the icons they represent. The best leaders are not only selfless servants of their communities, but are also understanding that they carry the burden of earnestly representing their people. So, as our current circumstances have us reconsidering the group affinities we profess, and in an election year no less, it’s worth calibrating your sense of individuality and leadership to the points that best uphold your values and outlook.