We have seen this locally: as Lafayette and UL advance and expand rapidly, we experience condescension and ridicule from other communities and schools. In fact, one of the best examples illustrating the difference between communities and societies happened some years ago after a big volunteer weekend at Cajun Field. Over 200 people showed up over the course of the effort, doctors, lawyers, engineers, bankers, councilmen & other elected officials. In Lafayette, this is not surprising: because communities are inclusive and horizontal, few people feel that some job or experience is 'beneath them', irrespective of the significance that a traditional society might place on one's title or profession. In a society, the 'upper' levels do not fraternize with the 'lower' levels, and certainly do not work along side them, particularly not in manual labor.

During the cleanup, at one point Head Football Coach Rickey Bustle took a break from his duties to help out. Our fans-- largely products of our local community-- were delighted by his contribution. A picture of Coach Bustle picking up trash showed up on the Cajuns' sports boards with the general reaction of, "How cool. The Head Coach is willing to come out and help pick up trash."

Immediately a rival school-- one built much more around the concepts of a society-- published the same picture on their sports board and said, "How embarrassing. The Head Coach has to go out and pick up trash."

That's Community vs. Society, in a nutshell.

And it brings us to an important insight about leadership. All groups talk about leadership, about 'leading,' but just as with community and society, the term has two distinct and contradictory meanings. In fact, the difference in the two meanings of leadership are a result of the differences between community and society.

In a society, leading simply means to be 'in the lead', to be at the top of the hierarchy. It is a static noun, nothing more than a position. It is not a verb, it is not a process, it does not mean to lead in any productive sense. 

Even a cursory review of history shows the truth of this: in the old royal systems of the world, leading had nothing to do with vision, justice, nor even competency. The king was the king, his word was law. If the king's law was short-sighted or even stupid, that was irrelevant. So to be a leader in a society simply means to be at the top; it says nothing about the value of that leadership. In effect, it is little more than a big, foam-rubber #1 finger.

By contrast in a community, leadership is not top-down, but bottom up. The leader does not 'lord' over everyone else, but serves beneath them, supporting them. In a community, leadership is a verb, a process, it is about the value of the contribution, the wisdom of decisions, and the willingness of the leader to work alongside everyone else to accomplish a task. In a community, the leader's personal wants and desires come after those of the larger group.

This is actually an important part of the American system. In the early debates by the Founding Fathers, Washington fretted that after serving as President, one would be stepping down, and it would be a huge loss of prestige. To which the response was, it would be a step up: in a democracy, in a community, in any group of equals, the leader is not the personal beneficiary of the wealth and power she controls. She is the servant of everyone else. So leaving the presidency is not a loss of prestige, but a loss of obligation, of burden.

These distinctions lead us again to innovation, and that Lafayette is a Community of Innovators. Long ago, The American Dream retired the concept that the 'upper classes' are the sole arbiters & generators of innovation; in fact, it retired the very concepts of class distinction. As we noted earlier, in America we are all too aware that genius, industry, and leadership emerge from all socio-economic levels. Everyone is capable of creativity and contribution.

In the American democracy, and in the community, innovation comes from everyone, everywhere. Toxic to that inclusive innovation? Exclusivity. Condescension. Ridicule.


And this was the problem with the meeting that I described at the beginning of this essay. A Community of Innovators is not one which is driven from the top down, but from the bottom up. Genius emerges from all sectors of the community and expands outward. Innovation is much more likely to originate from quiet side discussions, than it is from some recognized authority speaking from a podium. So in a community, particularly in a Community of Innovators, leadership does not sit at the top dictating what others do. It is at the bottom, supporting the genius inherent in the community.

And the last thing we need is someone standing at the head of the class-- whether it be an educational class or an 'upper' class-- saying, "Everyone pay attention to what I think is important."