Monday, October 25, 2010

Following to Lead

                For the past decade or so, more schools have been adding “leadership” to their mission and objectives. It’s a hard thing to argue against. Certainly the world could always use better leadership. For that to happen, though, we have to reconsider some traditional notions of leadership as they often play out in schools.
                In some ways this issue comes down to a matter of the individual versus the collective. Students generally see leaders as those who talk the most during class, serve as team captains, and win student elections. They are the visible faces and receive the most accolades. Whether these students are effective or not—and many are—is not the point. Instead, it’s the unfortunate lesson that students can learn about leadership: that it’s largely about what an individual gains through intrinsic talents. And students with certain types of personalities or preferences seldom get put in those roles. Early on, kids can grow cynical about the entire concept of leadership.
                Sometimes I think that we should be talking with kids about not just effective leadership, but also meaningful followership. We tend to avoid the topic because follower can have such negative connotations. Yet I believe that we can teach students really powerful and long-lasting messages by helping them think meaningfully about whom, why, and how to follow. This, in turn, forces consideration of some crucial topics, particularly as students mature. What are the qualities I really admire in people? What do they look like in action? Do I look up to that person for the right reasons? Does that person want to lead for the right reasons?
                Thus we move into the realm of the collective. The leaders we want students to follow act for the greater good, for larger and noble purposes. They realize that everyone has a role to play in that process and help each person to realize it. At the same time, the best followers become determined to make a contribution each and every day. They are the people we come to count on, the ones we know will move things in a positive direction. Others begin to look towards them for direction.
                And, when they are ready, those who follow well emerge as the true leaders.


Sylvia Venable said...

Dear Mark,

Thanks for another insightful blog! I like your coining of the word "followership"--perhaps it has been used before, but I have never seen it in print. All of us think we can recognize a leader immediately, but often are mesmerized by the trappings of dress, demeanor, eloquent speech, physique, and fluidity of thought. And that is the reason why "followership" has, sometimes deservedly, been a maligned term fraught with connotations of untutored, blind obedience to the the more charismatic leader, however noble (or nefarious) that leader's modus operandi may be. Both roles require a deft touch and a delicate recognition of how important it is, above all, to think before one acts (in the case of the leader) or follows (in the case of the "disciple"). Neither role is more or less important. Both carry within them a sense of responsibility to one's own self as well as to the welfare of others.

Christina Bovard said...

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." John Quincy Adams

Mark Crotty said...

Sylvia, one of the mosre interesting points that has come out of Jim Collins' work is that truly sustainable organizations seldom have super-charismatic, ego-driven leaders. They often help create a short-term frenzy, but it doesn't last past the initial buzz.

Mark Crotty said...

Christina, I love the quotation. Have you read McCullough's great biography of Adams?

Christina Bovard said...

Ah, yes. David McCullough - the master of historical narrative. I dare write, if I had read accounts as entertaining as his, I would have done better in school. (Smile)