The Secret to the Art of Leadership

The first step of being a leader is recognizing that it’s not all about you.

The Secret to the Art of Leadership
“Reflected Chess pieces” by Adrian Askew is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

In 2020, the World Fantasy Convention was in serious trouble.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event had to pivot suddenly from an in-person event to an online one, despite having no staff who could handle the shift. I had just been a volunteer for the first-ever online Nebula Awards hosted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, so I knew what a really fun and successful online event might look like. I could instantly see that the WFC didn’t have the structure to live up to that.

The 2020 World Fantasy Convention was plagued by setbacks and internal problems from the beginning, and by the time the weekend of the convention rolled around, things were stretched to a breaking point. The structure of the online event, which I had not been part of creating, failed suddenly, leaving guests, speakers, hosts, and staff in a messy confusion.

As head of the tech team, failures on this larger scale were not my responsibility. However, I knew that I had the skills, and the hand-picked team, that could tackle the problem.

So, we took over the entire conference.

While the official head of the conference focused on being a friendly face to the guests, I restructured the entire event.

My team and I ran overtime, building a Zoom-based system that turned a potential disaster into a hit convention. And, because of my position, I became one of the de facto faces of the event, despite not having any official title or recognition.

I managed to accomplish this because I had the self-taught skills and experience, but also because I had built a strong network. My team worked in unison to solve a problem completely outside our official designation, and while I was the central decision-making node, my best decisions were those that created space for my team members to shine.

Hierarchy works for a limited time, but hierarchy is also extremely fragile. Collective networks are more resilient and can act with surprising alacrity as long as they have the license to move in when needed.

Indeed, the word “leader” comes from a root that means to “guide and conduct” (Etymonline, n.d.). In this frame, leadership is not about turning the head and forcing the body to follow but about building a system for success. Leaders are those people who work to integrate positive loops of feedback that stabilize an organization and allow for swifter and more efficient action to be taken.

Of course, any form of leadership requires confidence and self-assertiveness, areas I have traditionally struggled to embody. In a hierarchical role, these attributes of self do not need to be well-defined because the position creates the authority. One doesn’t need to be internally confident if one is wearing the badge that says, “you have to listen to me.” My goal has always been the sort of inner self-assuredness that allows one to function in any circumstance without appealing to the higher authority of a hierarchical structure, and it’s a goal that demands continual self-growth.

I have rarely regarded myself as a leader in the hierarchical sense. While the power of leadership can stroke anyone’s ego, I’ve generally found that such forms of top-down control rarely feel good to exist within. Instead, I’ve found my preferred place within the facilitatory definition of a leader: one who guides through example and works to enable those around him to become their best selves.

There is a misconception about the role of a leader that has undermined our entire society. We too easily think of a “leader” as a dictator, even if we don’t realize it. The leader is seen as the CEO, the authoritarian head of a hierarchical structure to which subordinates are beholden. But this is a weak perspective of leadership, and one that we assume to be true at our peril.

In my experience, leadership arises from real connections. Ultimately, leaders are willing to put themselves out into the world, risking their egos and limited free time to build connections. My experience founding Round Table Writers, and my experiences volunteering for major organizations, like the World Fantasy Convention, have taught me the truth of this perspective.

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, an independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider subscribing to a paid tier for as little as $2.50 per month!
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Etymonline. (n.d.). Leader. Retrieved February 22, 2023, from [](

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