In the survivalist/prepper world, one can argue that we are all leaders, yes? Well, ask yourself, what happens when you thought you were going to be the leader of your compound/ neighborhood/ community but got to the party late and someone else is in charge? What happens when you can’t or simply aren’t THE leader?
You lead from the middle. This article proposes two ways in which you can lead without being the designated leader.
As survivalist/preppers we know a neighborhood or city block is better than one home, while a community is best. Let’s assume the SHTF and you are executing your plan. You were able to get your family out to your community’s compound. Having fought off several looters on the way, you managed to collect several critical items from your cache. You are definitely prepared for this event and have various skills crucial to surviving the next riotous year. Relief overwhelms you as you realize that you are exceptionally skilled, and there is no one better equipped to handle the upcoming chaos as you are able handle it. Let the games begin.
Once you arrive at your community’s compound, Grey Beard is in charge and he designates you “firewood collector guy”. He directs you to stow your food and supplies in the pole barn and report to the fire-master.
I exaggerate because I am not sure there is a “firewood collector guy” or “fire master”; if you were assigned to collect firewood with your leadership experience and mammoth suite of survival skills, you might feel slighted, indignant perhaps. You might feel as though you deserve to be elevated to a recognized leader status. Who wouldn’t, right?
So what’s to be done, expert survivalist/ prepper turned firewood collector?
Be the best fire wood collector you can be. You will ensure that there will never be a minute, an hour, or a day without ample firewood. You may improve the firewood collection process, perhaps automating your wheelbarrow. Focus on your task and do it with dedication and focus. And go one step further, have fun while you are doing it.
All compounds are organized differently, and I am not being frivolous by suggesting someone be designated the task of collecting firewood. What I’m trying to convey is that if you have a PhD in Chemistry, you would feel silly if you were hired by a University to mop the floor…in the chemistry wing.
You would feel undervalued and underused – a non-contributor. You would be operating below your capability.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Nah, I won’t feel that way. I’ll do what is asked of me. I’ll be a great team player. I don’t need to lead.”
I sure hope so! However, I think, that anyone who is so earnestly invested in the welfare of others would not be so quick to surrender leadership, especially us A-types who spent the last several years preparing for a SHTF moment. We must be prepared to lead from the middle because it may be our primary mode of leading.
For me, leading from the middle arose from necessity. Six weeks of indiscriminate Scud missiles during the opening of Operation Iraqi Freedom kept me sleep deprived, anxious, and frustrated. As a 1st Lieutenant surrounded by field grade officers, my objections were overruled with suggestions routinely ignored. Ultimately, I was relegated to doing a job that a Lance Corporeal could perform. Simply put: I was not leading and it was frustrating. Add to that combat stress, no sleep, and irregular meal times and I was ready to implode.
Working took my mind off the frustration. Conscientiously monitoring communications kept me active. Concentrating on doing my job well relieved stress and I started to have fun—I smiled often and laughed a lot. When I began to really study my communications plans, I saw deficiencies. I corrected those deficiencies. I discovered new commo devices different units had and that weren’t be used, so we trained on those devices. We talked communications over chow and sometimes in our sleep. I was no longer worried about the sea of officers that surrounded me—I was doing my job better than I had ever done it in the past.
In time, lower enlisted sought my counsel, not the senior enlisted or other officers. I was consulted on our intelligence briefings and our daily operations updates. Our foreign partners sought my advice and suggestions concerning scouting missions and decontamination sites. People began putting faith in me.
Reflecting on that time I realize that all I did was successfully do my job and tried to have fun doing it. Do your work well, efficiently, and expertly. In a SHTF environment I am willing to bet it’ll look and feel a bit like combat; days of downtime interrupted by minutes of panic. Complacency creeps in and people get restless. When they look at you getting firewood every day –cheerful and working hard - those around you become less anxious. They will look inward after watching your example and realize their own work needs to be done and they will go and do it.
You have just led them. From the middle.
My second piece of advice is to follow well. Great leaders are great because they possess the capability to follow as good as they lead. When SHTF dialogue is over, it’s time to do. Protests must stop and you must act. As long as you are conscious and morally not violated, follow that order. Others, who have witnessed your worked ethic, will see your enthusiasm. They won’t be scared because you are not—you are too focused to be worried about other things. They will ask you questions, for help or for advice. Your skill set, even-keeled demeanor, and enthusiasm will inspire others. You will be able to demonstrate all your skills as well as your leadership acumen when others’ speak with you and work by your side. You, again, will be leading from the middle.
One aspect of following well is to offer solutions, not problems. Sure, Grey Beard’s idea is not great. You can pick it apart blindfolded. However, it’s not all that bad. Don’t play “stump the chump”: offer suggestions that look like you love his plan and are working to make HIS plan even better. Hide a weakness in his plan with a well worded suggestion. People will see you are on board and are working toward making it better—not usurping it. Think about the “sheeple” in your everyday life who say, “Oh, that’ll never work, you can’t do it like that!” and offer nothing but negativity. Think about how you feel toward that person. Sheeple bring problems, not solutions—being a good follower means you bring solutions. Leading from the middle means you are not a sheep, but a clear thinking, highly skilled, insightful level-headed leader.
Some may argue against the necessity of being able to follow well. They may say that the one with the best skill set and best leadership ability should lead and, in the case of survival, should fight to do so. Let me offer you this—amongst an entire block or community or compound of skilled survivalist/ preppers, do you think any leader would do anything so egregious that you would be required to take over? If so, you might need to reconsider belonging to that group.
Following well will show others that order is good; that you have courage and are not scared; that your faith in others and your abilities in your job will see whatever situation through. No one will panic because you are calm. People are watching you—not the leader; they have their orders so there is no need for the leader right now. Their behavior cues are coming from you because they want to see how you are going to follow the order. You are the leader at this given moment - leading from the middle.
You have already set the conditions middle leadership. People around you are recognizing your natural abilities as a spearhead, plus your excellent skill set has started to become apparent—you were able to weld a small motor to your wheelbarrow and you were able to suture a bad cut for your friend.
In a small group setting like a block or compound, everyone doing their job is critical to survival. You have to set the example - and the impact is immeasurable. Being a good follower by being a problem solver makes you a contributor to the plan and also sets the tone for the subsequent behavior of your peers. People may not move until you move, they won’t decide until you decide, and they won’t feel safe unless you let them know they are safe and have told them what they need to do.
Eventually, you will be the leader without being the appointed leader…because you led well from the middle.
I offer these two lessons learned because they have helped me throughout my life, not just during my time in the Middle East. It was exceptionally hard for me to deal with being a junior officer and having no one to lead. Imagine saving money for the entire year for prom and the woman (or man) of your dreams agreed and has said yes. You have the limo, the tux (or gown), flowers, and reservations at the best restaurant in town. This will be the most magical night ever!
Yet you never get to go…
I was not prepared for being underutilized. I had no idea, with the stress, fatigue, and hunger that I would feel so desperate to use my skills. I was paralyzed by how frustrating it would be to watch a sea of senior officers completely disregard anything I had to say while refusing to acknowledge my contributions. It was one of the toughest emotional tests I had faced as a young man.
Leading from the middle and being a good follower saved my sanity, quite possibly my life, and the sanity of others. I learned that a leader has many definitions and that being in charge of everyone is just one small definition of a leader. Perhaps the greatest lesson was that no one cared about my idea of leadership - they cared how I demonstrated it. So, I did my job well and followed even better.
After a few years as a defense contractor and now as a science teacher I’ve used these two lessons continuously with great success.
I learned the value of humility by doing my tasks and following; I learned how to be a selfless team player and that alone is at the core of any great leader.
I hope this article at least wrinkled your eyebrow a bit. God Bless!