Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Other Side of Leadership

It's hardly news to say that ours is a culture fixated on celebrities and leaders. We elevate individuals into prominence and admire them for their leadership qualities or talents. In fact, we train our young people to aspire to such status. As a fellow journalist and educator recently wrote (and got me thinking about this), our colleges invest a lot of effort into preparing the world's next leaders. We sharpen their thinking skills so they can guide companies and hone their speaking skills so they can inspire communities. We expect them to aspire to positions of power so they can influence and shape culture. And if they're not prepared to lead by the time they graduate, no worries. There are oodles of books, videos and workshops on becoming an effective leader. As if leadership were the highest—and only—goal. Who can imagine a university advertising, "We train the next generation of followers"?!

Maybe we should.

Maybe we should teach listening instead of speaking skills. Reflection instead of strategic thinking. And for that matter, principles of following instead of leading. I'm not talking about doormat stuff here, or the mindless hoopla of mob scenes. No, I'm talking about thoughtful followers with character, integrity, patience. Those who don't feel compelled to lead a company or star in a movie, but who know—really know—their contributions are just as insignificant.

The thousands of graduates this spring entering the workplace might feel equipped to climb the ladder of success but I'm not sure they know how to hold it steadily in place so others can climb. Or want to. But we need good followers—smart, insightful and self aware citizens as much as we do leaders of the same ilk. We need those un-ambitious types who can watch the crowd swept up in the latest political movement and question its goals and language. Not because they want to take over or even join, but because questioning is the right thing to do.

1 comment:

  1. How much I agree with this! If everybody wants to start his or her own revolution, we will never find the strength in numbers that a revolution needs.

    I think a classroom is the wrong place to teach listening. I think it's something children should learn at home or in church because it's more of a personal skill. A lot of times I suddenly hear myself talking and realize I should just shut up and listen to the other person, but it's hard because none of us are trained to do that. Yet the people whose company I most enjoy are the people who really listen to me, and I want someone else to see me as that kind of person.