Leadership in the Stacks

One reason I love to work in our bookstore is that there is no leader. We do have a boss, this is true, but Cassandra is always busy at her computer, inputting titles and data into our online lists. By the way, no one has better descriptions of their books than Cassandra. If there is a slight tear in the back of the dust jacket or underlining in the first chapter, Cassandra’s description mentions it.

The rest of the work to be done at the bookstore is equally shared by her employees and volunteers, except for the packing and mailing. Bob is so meticulous with this task that the rest of us would never take umbrage that he has monopolized it; clients must be impressed by his parcels. The books are so well protected inside concentric layers of cocoons that I doubt that they would be damaged even if the delivery truck ran over one of them or if they remained out all night in a rainstorm.

We are leaderless at our bookstore. However, all duties are shared without discord or jealousy. First of all, we each have our preferences, and secondly, there are so many things that need to be done that there are never enough hours in the day to complete them all. I.e., both Marie and I love to place incoming books in their rightful place on the shelves, and we both love to take a section and re-alphabetize it. (One of our pet peeves has to do with clients who mis-shelve the books; they should be taken to the canal near our shop and fed to the alligators.) But there are always so many new books coming in that it is useless to quibble about who gets to put them up. We both do, and we never finish the task. Incoming is huge; we’re bursting at the seams; we have accepted the fact that there will always be boxes of books stacked by the front entrance and here and there among the aisles.

Ernest hasn’t been coming in as often lately. He found a teaching job and can now lend us a helping hand only once or twice a week. I myself have been busy writing, and when the words are flowing I am loath to leave them. When the Muse is not there to inspire me, I go to the bookstore to be surrounded by that which always inspires me: more books to read.

So even if we lack a leader, our work gets done. The question to ask, then, is “Why is a leader even necessary?” It’s true, our boss is the one who ultimately decides what price to slap on each book sold. This is her business and that task her prerogative. Nevertheless, sometimes I preview the incoming books and write down how many Abe hits the book has, and the range of prices marked. For instance, a signed first edition of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch might have 22 Abe hits, and its range be from $45 to $750 (for a de luxe version in a slipcase). Cassandra’s prices are never among the highest for she prefers to move her merchandise fast. Still, I think that we would be able, as a committee, to come up with a price, say, 30% of the median price on Abe, or on one of the other online bookseller consortiums, Alibris, Biblio, or even Barnes & Noble or Powell’s.

We also need someone to make a decision as to which shelf belong the books that are difficult to categorize. Say you don’t know where to place a book on Italian architecture. Well, you look through it, and if it’s a touristy kind of book that mentions famous buildings and monuments, it goes under Italy. But if the chapters deal with columns, arches, and domes; mention High Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque, then you place the book under Architecture. Luckily, there are some of us who speak foreign languages well enough to understand what their content is.

In any case, I like working in a leaderless environment. It suits me on a personal, and on a professional, level. I don’t feel that I have ever been a leader, yet I am not a follower. I am too independent to be either one. I’ve always known my business, so no one is going to boss me around. But I expect others to know their business, that is, their duties and responsibilities, so I won’t boss them around. Only people with the conceit that they can guide, influence and command others will even take it upon themselves to be leaders. It’s the power to do so that they crave. In order to even be able to lead, these self-made leaders need a group to yield their volition, perhaps even their better judgment, to conform and comply with the directives and mandates of their leader. Still, I say, only when the followers lack the necessary knowledge or skills should they submit to a leader. I therefore conclude that when those subordinates acquire that knowledge and those skills they no longer need anyone to lead them. A leader should always be temporary. In all cases, all decisions should be made by consensus of the entire group, never by the leader alone. Any society that voluntarily gives its leader unfettered freedom deserves everything that might come from that leader, including annihilation.

A father or mother is not a leader of his or her children: they are guides, consultants, and advisers. A teacher is not the leader of the class: s/he is the instructor, the mentor, the coach. A mayor is not the leader of the city: s/he is the facilitator, the organizer, the problem solver. A government official is not the leader of his constituents: s/he is their representative, the product of their consensus, the embodiment of their collective wisdom.

Any society that has decided to give itself a leader had better vet that leader for possible flaws; otherwise they deserve autocratic leadership. At the first sign of totalitarian rule, a society should rid itself of the leader for it can only get worse. Once the police or the army is out in full force, suspending citizens’ rights and protections under the Constitution, it is too late.

Voltaire said that the first priest was the first swindler who met the first imbecile. For “priest” substitute the word “politician” or any other word that connotes “self-made leader.” Let’s not be imbeciles.


About the author

Roy Luna: Roy Luna is a retired French professor who dabbles in the arts, tinkers with music, reads heavily in fiction and history, but does not neglect biographies or science. His main efforts these days are devoted to writing a trilogy of novels based on events occurring during the years between the death of Voltaire (1778) and the French Revolution (1789-94), years rich in both enlightened human progress and dark, evil terror. Three times a week he volunteers at Dunbar Old Books, making sure orphaned books find their way to other readers. His library at home may have surpassed the 10,000 mark, and he valiantly tries to read them all… The one important thing to retain about Roy is his horror at the sins, the injustice, the atrocities, the crimes against humanity that are perpetrated and justified in the name of religion. Any belief system that condones such savagery has discarded its humanity, abandoned its compassion, and forsaken its principles of empathy, tolerance and love of one’s neighbor.


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