Monday, July 26, 2010

Leaders and Followers

These are two terms that I had no real understanding of five years ago, and I suspect the same is true of most people today. If you had asked me to define what a leader was, I would have described the position of President, the job of a CEO, or the forceful temperament I thought was necessary in either. If asked to describe a follower, I would have made reference to barnyard animals.

This is a perfect demonstration of what unbalanced media can do to the minds of its viewers. By constantly seeking to be in agreement with the mind of the masses in order to maintain expanding (if increasingly unstable) viewership, mass media entertainment unknowingly follows it into the inevitable depths of pessimism. Media that criticizes the world for its problems merely re-enforces the thinking that created the problems.

The pessimistic view that all "leaders" are authoritarian and unlikable, has the effect of dissuading individuals in the masses from seeking to lead. Their bosses then play the part they are left—to force the unenthusiastic masses to follow orders like sheep. These "followers" in turn play the part they are left—to keep their heads down and do no more than is expected. The casualty here, of course, is art.

Great leaps forward in history, while many times arising from strife, must first be fueled by the momentum of inspiration. The American Revolutionary War wasn't fought on a whim, but was kindled by true leaders that stoked the fires of imagination in the people. Only when the people could feel what freedom would be like, could they summon the courage to rise up. This sort of leadership is an art form, and the media of the day helped crystallize the message of what could be, not what was.

Today, we are inundated with media (both through formal education then through television and other entertainment) that portrays the positional leader. While today's positional leaders are not royalty, media uses language as if they were—especially with regard to celebrities. In cases where the position was "earned" rather than given by succession, the perspective (and perhaps the truth) is that the successor must have done something dishonest to get there.

But much of the frustration surrounding this type of leadership stems from a misunderstanding of what leadership is. First of all, the position does not make one a leader, merely a manager or a king. Secondly, getting people to do what they already know how to do isn't leadership, it's redundancy. A true leader encourages people to grow, and true followers are naturally inspired to do what they do—and more.

A follower is not a sheep, but a student. And he is not a student that is being molded into a cog, but one that is blossoming with all the uniqueness of a wildflower. A follower in this sense, is a person who knows he does not yet possess the ability to lead. While he may never surpass the skill of the leader he is following, he will become some level of leader himself.

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