Leader, Supervisor, Mentor, by D. Hacker


Make no mistake, someone will fill the roles of Leader, Supervisor, and Mentor.  As we all know, power abhors a vacuum.  Leaders are considered to be in positions of power, in spite of the fact that many great leaders had little power and many powerful people were terrible leaders.  This article will refer to these roles as they pertain to survival situations.

While the Leader, Supervisor, and Mentor might be the same person, often each of these roles fall on different individuals.  A leader is someone who can organize a group of people to achieve a common goal.  It’s someone who people will follow, either because of coercion (power), charisma, intelligence, gained respect, or other characteristics.   A leader is often assertive and confident.  A leader must weigh their concern for others in the group versus the intended goal.  The situation will often dictate which style (coercion or charisma, for example) of leadership will work at any given time.  Because survival situations can often bring about depression, or a defeatist attitude, it is important that a leader be able to inspire others in the group.

Although someone may be the initial leader, they may not retain it.  Being a leader, as I said, includes having power.  Having power means having responsibility.  The more power you have (whether the president, a cop, or a parent), the more responsibility comes with it.  Some people don’t like that responsibility, and some people (although they may like the power) don’t know how to handle it well.  I think that, above all, doing what’s “Reasonable” will help ensure a leader is considered suitable for the long haul.  Reasonable , in this case, encompasses many things, including good decision making skills and having high moral and ethical character.  As a leader, it is also important to have courage and good communication skills.  Again, not everyone is suitable for the position of leader.

A leader may delegate a supervisor for a particular assignment, so that the leader is not overwhelmed by trying to oversee too many people or projects.  A supervisor is someone who oversees others to see that a project gets completed properly.  A supervisor should probably supervise no more than seven adults at a time.  This, of course, depends on what the task is, but as the number of people being supervised increases, so does the chances of losing control of the project.  As mentioned earlier, the group leader may also be the supervisor, depending on how many people are in the group or are involved in a particular project.   A supervisor will be the primary link between the leader and the group completing the project.  Generally, a supervisor will (or should) also be actively involved in the labor of completing the task at hand.  This is a “lead by example” style that is often important in survival situations.

A mentor is someone who guides or teaches.  A leader or supervisor could also fill the role of mentor, or they may be a terrible mentor, depending on the task, the knowledge they have, and how good of a teacher they actually are.  A good mentor might also be a poor leader or supervisor.  For instance, you may have a doctor in your group who has no interest in being a leader or supervisor, but that doctor might be a very good mentor for aspiring medical care givers in your group.  A mentor may use a “Tell, Show, Do” model of teaching someone, but if the risks involved with a failure are high, then it may be more of a “Tell, Show, Tell, Show, Tell, Show, Do” method.  For instance, a medical procedures mentor might use this technique, because the risks of harm are high if the procedure is done wrong.

Think of the skills most people have now, and what skills will be needed during an extended grid-down scenario.  Not many people possess all the skills needed.  That means everyone will need training/mentoring in some aspect of survival.  For each skill needed, hopefully there is at least one person in your group who currently has expertise for that skill.  Skills need to be cross-trained so that several people possess each individual skill set.  This is so that if one person is unable to conduct a particular skill, then another person can still perform it.  Skills I expect to be needed are: medical (triage, wound management, child birth, disease diagnosis, I.V. administration, mental issues, etc.); food preparation (butchering animals, making basic breads, cooking over wood, solar cooking, dehydrating foods, canning, etc.); gardening (how and when to plant, maintaining soil quality, saving seeds, pest control. weeding, etc.); sanitation (making clean water, personal hygiene, waste disposal, etc.); security (early warning systems, personal combat, team tactics, observation and communication skills, etc.); maintenance (electronics, construction, metalwork, sewing, etc.); hunting (including trapping, snaring, and other wild food gathering); and teaching (primarily the basics of traditional education, along with religious education for the children). 

It is important that proper “feedback”, whether good or bad, be provided by leaders, supervisors, and mentors.  A survival situation is not the same as the normal business world, and the importance of keeping good relationships and completing important tasks cannot be underestimated.  Lives could be at stake.  With that in mind, realize that the way feedback is given greatly influences the way it is received.  If correcting someone (or giving negative feedback): make sure to give the feedback in a prompt manner (don’t wait till three days has passed before you tell them they screwed up); be specific about what should be done better (they need to know what they actually did wrong); try to give negative feedback in a setting that is away from others so you don’t appear to be trying to embarrass them; and, try to use the “sandwich” technique of saying something positive, then the negative, then finish up with something positive again.  For instance, you might say “Thanks for helping split this wood.  I know it’s hard work and I appreciate it.  Can you please split the pieces a little thinner so we can fit them into our stove easier?  Again, I really appreciate your help with this.  This will help us all for quite a while.” 

Giving positive feedback is easier, but just as important.  We can all use positive reinforcement for the jobs we do, and it makes us more willing to do them.  As a leader, supervisor, or mentor, you will be giving feedback, but you will also probably be receiving it.  Make sure you take the feedback with an open mind and react the way you hope others react when you give them feedback.  In fact, as a leader, supervisor, or mentor, I would suggest you occasionally request feedback.  How else will you know how you are doing and where improvements can be made?  It also conveys the feeling that you care what others think about your performance and that you have their interests at heart.

There are many tasks (security, gardening, cooking, cleaning, wood gathering, etc.) that might need to be done in a survival situation.  How will these tasks be assigned?  How will divisive decisions be made?  Is there a process in place to overrule the group leader?  How about insubordination, or a minor crime like theft from someone else in the group?  What sorts of punishments will be handed out?  Those things should be discussed and some plans made.

If some of these decisions are to be made by voting, then I suggest figuring out how to do it ahead of time.  I would suggest having a stock of pre-printed ballots, which have a small box next to a “Yes” and a “No”.  The vote is made by just punching a small hole (with a stick or pencil) through one of the boxes.  Once marked, the ballots go into an empty box before being counted.  By doing it this way, all votes can be made discretely, thereby reducing the chance of influencing the vote by intimidation.  How many votes will be needed to pass a measure (unanimous, majority, super-majority)?  Again, these are for the individual group to decide.

In closing, I just want to say that a leader will almost always be needed, but may not be welcome.  If you have anarchists in your group, then they probably won’t want to follow rules, no matter who makes them.  Not every decision must be made by the leader, so figure out how that will take place.  Having some guidelines in place now will make it easier when times are tough.

When the SHTF, unless you’re alone, someone should, will, or must be a leader.  Not all situations or tasks will need a supervisor, but all will, at some point, have a leader.  It is important to consider who, among your group, will rise to the occasion.  Is it you?  Is it someone you believe will take that position, but not do the job correctly (especially for a survival situation)?  Does your group have too many people who think, or expect, they will be the leader?  Now’s the time to look at the dynamics of the people who may find their way to your house or retreat, in a survival situation.

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