Somewhere around January of 2017 I co-founded the “Live Oak Permaculture Group” outside of New Orleans, LA. Partnering with a local community organizer we came together to create a group that would meet up, discuss permaculture, and help people implement and gain some insights how they could live a little more self reliance and lighter on the planet.
Through that process we held classes, taught tree grafting lessons, consulted on permaculture designs, hosted lunches and overall met similar company. We even organized about a dozen volunteers to install the apple and chestnut savannah on our farm in Louisiana, equipped with well over 80 varieties of southern apples. It was truly amazing to see what 12, motivated, volunteers could do.
I became both the leader and the “technical expert trainer”
I believed at the time that serving the group was by becoming the person out in front who would host classes and demonstrate what techniques for creating sustainability. Nearly every event, I found myself being the primary topic at least 80% of the time, with the occasional event held off site at another person’s home, or guest speaker.
As time went on I found it increasingly more difficult for others to try and take this baton, instead wishing that I would do the teaching, since I was more experienced.
Overtime the group lacked something…
While The Live Oak Permaculture Group was successful in teaching people at the events, it reached a plateau both in numbers but in energy. After about a year of hosting events, dozens of people would signup, but only about 15 people would show up. Our events, while improved in quality, started to feel a bit stale.
A core group had formed, who after a few years, mostly just wanted to hang out with like minded people and wish that the world was different.
Instead of action, there was only chitter chatter
This situation runs opposite to how I felt about the group. From the beginning I dreamed the group would be action oriented. A group that would go out and interacting with the community. The group would be able to utilize our internal knowledge and skillsets to make needed change.
But I rarely brought this action orientation up, instead continually griping about it in private that the group should be out there “doing.”
During those years, I wasn’t sure how to handle this juxtaposition. On one hand, I was the leader and could drive the members in a particular direction and on the other hand “it wasn’t happening.” Instead of sharing this with the group and being open, I kept them in and focused on the people that I was interacting with.
Some say that a leader’s job is to serve the people under their leadership. While this is true, the leader doesn’t serve the people, when the leader only focuses on their immediate desires and what they can express verbally now.
A leader really becomes a leader when the they help people serve the needs of others and act on their highest values.
The issue was there wasn’t an external vision
Because the group focused only on itself, it had no reason to grow. There was no compelling reasons to improve their skills, improve their confidence, and definitely small reason for people to join the group.
The group lived entirely in the “what can I get from this group” rather than “how can I help this group succeed?”
The members of the group became more disconnected with the people outside of it. The members of the group more and more wanted to sit back and have others do the work. The members more and more drifted away.
If, however, there was a vision that extended beyond the members group, and if the leader drove that vision instead of “giving the members what they want”, the group would have grown, as individuals and as a group.
All of the resources that were on the table, were locked by the lack of vision of the leader.
If you happen to be a leader of a similar group, or considering creating a group, consider this a lesson. The members of the group need a leader, not a technical expert. They gain confidence through action. To keep the group growing, alive, and productive there must be action that engages with outside entities.