We’re not taught that it’s a good idea to follow. Often our whole goal in a career is to climb higher and higher as fast as possible. There are obvious benefits to such a track, as we get paid more the higher we rise. But the other benefit to such a climb is that you become more of a leader. And that’s how you get more respect, more money, more responsibility and on and on.
And the idea of strong leaders or the importance of leaders has grown in our society, as we look to the tops of organizations to symbolize what the company or agency stands for. CEOs are showered with millions, if the company does well. We turn to the President, when something minor – good or bad occurs – within government, offering praise or criticism. Of course, in both instances, their leadership is highly overrated.
CEOs are only provided the highest level of information, so when developing strategies it’s their executives, and the executives’ teams that build the X’s and O’s of what’s possible for the company. The CEO just selects the final idea, which is often strongly suggested by whatever executive presents it. The President overseas agencies, that make decisions constantly, without ever receiving permission from the “Leader of the Free World.” In the government’s case, there’s also Congress and the Supreme Court making decisions, which the President has little to no control over. And yet, we bolster his/her’s responsibility, even when others are to blame.
And in many ways, this seems tied to how we consume media. Books and movies need strong characters, so we are more thrilled by those that have one central leader. The media needs ways to present complex information in a thrilling way, so they increase the importance of the President or CEO in the story line. Not to mention, they have to do this to drive clicks online, since CEOs and Obama result in far better results.
All this leads to our desire and need to be a leader as we look up to those we see in the world the most. But sometimes, when we’re in a rut, we don’t know how to lead. When we can’t figure out what to do next for ourselves, how can we ask people to follow? I believe this is part of the reason we struggle so mightily when we’re in such a rut. After all, we don’t want to follow anyone or else we will not be leaders, and therefore unhappy (read poor, unsuccessful, junior-level). So we continue to look for another place, where we can find a spot to lead. The result? Nothing happens.
A few years ago, entrepreneur Derek Sivers gave a TED Talk that became an instant classic. You can view the video above. But what happens in this is he talks about leadership through an example at a concert. A man gets up to dance. He’s leading a cause. It isn’t a cause, however, because it’s only this one man dancing. Then suddenly, another man jumps up and joins this leader. And then another. Then, after others see these few dancing, they join the party, making it a cause.
Sivers, notes in this speech that the first follower in fact shows a form of leadership, and “transforms a lone nut into a leader.”
In this case, we’re talking about a dance. But in real life, a cause needs many of those original followers to turn a nut into a leader. So when you can’t figure out the best way to move forward, don’t look for ways to lead. Instead, look towards causes that you can help. This will give you the opportunity to learn from a leader, grow as a person, support something you believe in, and open your eyes to new situations and prospects you never imagined.
There’s no shame in following, as long as you’re following whatever it’s you truly want to do in life, or what you want to impact. This is how we grow. When you’re working for something that matters to you, then following might be the best way to create a spark, which can lead to change. And then you may become a leader, once you know how to extend that spark.
The shame comes from working hand-in-foot to get closer to those that you glorify, even as you hate your job or despise the company you work for. Then why choose to follow in that footstep? There’s way more causes out there, which can help you find the path that you will lead best.