Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Leadership is overrated...

Are you a leader or a follower? We’re told how important it is to be a leader. Every college in America claims to be “creating tomorrow’s leaders.” We’re told to “develop our leadership skills” if we want a good job or to get ahead in life. Leaders are important, we’re told.

I heard a story recently about a young woman who was filling out a college application for her Dream College. She had the grades, the SAT scores, the extracurricular activities, a kicking essay and great recommendations. But there was one question on her application that she struggled over. That question? “Are you a leader?”

She knew, deep down, that the correct answer – at least as far as admission departments are concerned – is a resounding “YES!” But that wouldn’t be honest. She wasn’t a leader. And she wasn’t going to lie about it. She said no, and waited to be rejected.

But when the letter came, it read, “Dear Applicant. As Dream College welcomes an incoming class of 1500 leaders, we are happy to admit at least one person who might follow them.”

“Too many chiefs and not enough Indians” is a problem. Nothing gets done when everyone is in charge.

I’m often a leader, but it’s very often by default. I don’t necessarily have to be in charge, but if you’re just going to screw it up, then yes, I’ll step forward. (I’m a control freak, I admit it.) I believe in service to an organization or group that serves me, and I’ll volunteer because I’m a busybody. I’m happy to follow a good leader, but I do have a “Lead, Follow, or Get the Hell Out Of The Way” philosophy.

Personally, I believe we’re creating too many leaders. If everyone thinks they’re destined to lead, then nothing is ever going to get done. I’m struggling right now with AC. AC wants to lead. She doesn’t want to follow (especially if they’re just going to screw it up). I’m trying to get her to see the merit and the worthiness of being a good follower.

Followers are important. Hell, you can’t lead a Conga Line at wedding reception without followers. Leaders without followers are useless. They are the nutjobs that stand on street corners at shout at cars passing by. They get nothing for their effort – regardless of their message.

The book I just turned in is about an activist heroine who accidentally starts a political movement. A friend helping me with some research sent me a link to a video about movements, and specifically the importance of the First Follower. It’s worth watching, because it stresses the importance of followers, but specifically the First Follower. In three minutes, one lone shirtless dancing guy creates a mob of happy dancers – but only because he was able to get that First Follower.

So I’m working with AC on the importance of being a good follower. Her “Followship Skills,” if you like. And if she learns something about being a good leader in the process, then, well, she’ll probably conquer the world.

So how are your Followship Skills?


Jean Hovey said...

My following skills depend on whether the person trying to lead me is an imbecile or not. I am happy to follow a competent person. I am happy to wrest the reigns from an imbecile.

Power means nothing. Influence is everything. One can be elected to power but must earn influence.

LA said...

I am comfortable in either role. But, please don't make me sit in committee meetings and listen to people's egos. Just tell me what you want me to do, and let me get going.

Smarty Pants said...

On most days, I would be glad to sit back and let other people handle things. Unfortunately, I'm surrounded by incompetence and if I don't take on a leadership role, I'll end up working twice as hard cleaning it up in the end.

On my performance appraisal this year, my manager wants me to take a bigger leadership role. This, I'd managed to avoid. I'm happy to do the work and let someone else present it. I can avoid it no longer.

Playground Monitor said...

I've always said there's nothing wrong with being a good follower. I'm a good follower and that's why my trophy case shall remain mostly empty because they don't give followship awards. I could tell you about my high school National Honor Society experience (or almost non-experience). My senior English teacher was stunned I had not been inducted as a junior and set out to learn why. It boiled down to I had the grades, the extracurricular participation, but not the leadership. I explained to her nicely that everything at our school was done by popular vote and I couldn't vote myself into office. I'd run for a few offices, but lost every time. She took that tidbit back to the NHS faculty advisor and needless to say, I was inducted my senior year. By that time it didn't mean as much. My junior year was also the year they decided to choose the graduation Marshalls by popular vote. There I sat, 9th in the class, figuring that was one thing I'd get based solely on merit and damn if they didn't screw me out of that too. Am I bitter after 42 years? You betcha!

Anonymous said...

I like the analogy of why geese fly in a "V." There is a scientific reason for the shape, but there's an interesting dynamic that takes place - they change leaders. Seems the geese in the front have to work harder than the geese in the back, so they change positions periodically. It's important that every goose continues to flap his wings, regardless of its position (the science thing), and that is called teamwork.

Having said that, I prefer not to lead, but I will. I'm definitely a "lead, follow, or get out of the way" person.

Instigator said...

You know, I used to be more of a leader when I was younger. Now, I'm not sure I have the energy to lead anymore. It's so much more work and frankly, I've got quite a bit of that going in my life already. I'm more inclined to lead only if someone else doesn't volunteer first. I still have problems keeping my opinions to myself - but I'm working on that one. I figure if I'm not willing to step up then I shouldn't open my big mouth either.

I enjoy leading though...just not at everything anymore.


PM's Mother said...

Cream rises to the top. Water seeks its own level. Draw your own conclusions.

PM's Mother said...

Also -- everyone marches to the tune of a different drummer.

catslady said...

Great blog. I am happier as a follower. Probably because I grew up with a family of scaredy cats lol. I have taken the occasional leadership roles when needed but I'm definitely better at just tell me what to do and I will get it done. I think some people need the limelight and flurish as leaders which is great since someone has to do it but I don't care for those that just glory in the leadership role and don't have a clue and just want to be bossy lol.

robertsonreads said...

I'm pretty much a follower. Occassionally, a leader.

Maven Linda said...

I'm a watcher. Whether or not I get involved depends on whether or not I'm interested in what's going on. All of my life I've been fairly impervious to peer pressure (didn't know what it was until I was already out of high school), so the social stuff passed me by, thank goodness. If I care about something, I'll gladly let someone else lead as long as they don't mess it up.

Angel said...

Love that video!!!

I'm definitely of the "lead, follow, or get out of the way" type. As I've grown older, I've become much more comfortable as a leader, mostly because I like things done a certain way. But if someone else is leading well, then I'm just happy to pitch in wherever they might need me to. But put me under a crappy leader, and I'm going to b*tch and moan until something is done about it. :)



Okay, I have a feeling alcohol was involved in that video.

Stephanie Jones said...

That video was great! I might show it to the other teachers on my Leadership Team. :-)

I like to think that I am a pretty good follower. I definitely find it easier to follow a competent leader. That said, like the goose at the front of the V I am willing to take my turn in a leadership role even though you have to flap your wings harder.