The Necessity of the Follower
Written by: Junayd Hussain
Photo by: Markus Spiske on Unsplash
In the spirit of the election campaigns and the need for informed decisions about our health and community well-being during the current pandemic, I wanted to take this opportunity to point out some ideas and fallacies surrounding the true importance of leadership. Many of us know that leaders need followers - but maybe not all of us see followers in the sense that I aim to talk about.
I would like you to think for a moment, about someone who has been a good leader or role model for you. It could be your favorite relative, that really smart classmate or co-worker, or that celebrity entrepreneur you have been dying to meet over coffee.
What is it exactly that made you like them, agree with their ideas, or even adopt their habits? Many may say it was their tenacity, their ingenuity, their sage wisdom, among a whole slew of other qualities we wish we had in ourselves. In fact, I am sure that so many people will cite the qualities of that leader - often without first thinking about the early adopters of, and true contributors to, that leader's ideas. Too often, the immense importance of the follower is disregarded and even considered of little value.
And that makes sense. When people think of the word "follower," they often think of someone who is passive and takes everything the leader says without much critical focus besides when it comes to who gets to have their name in the credits at the end of it all. That may have been true in more desperate times, when leadership, on its own and in its most literal sense, was considered crucial for anything to happen.
Of course, change is the only true constant. Times have changed, and with increasing empowerment from technology and tectonic shifts in social landscapes, followers can be seen as somewhat on par with leaders.
The leader may as well be the one who comes up with a crazy, radical, unexplored idea. But, few realize that it is the early adopters, the "first followers" that really characterize the leader's power. According to leadership expert Derek Sivers, the difference between a "lone nut" and a leader is the first few who are just as crazy enough to face initial ridicule and follow the leader. The first followers attract more followers, and presto! - that is how countless movements, scientific ideas, and social amendments have gained traction throughout human history. We all tend to focus on the one who led the initiative, but why not do the same for the one who "started it all"?
It is important to realize the similarities between leaders and good followers. Both are informed, both are knowledgeable, and most importantly, both hold their own ideas to question. True leaders see beyond their own happiness and look at the recipients of the changes and reflect on them.