A crisis of followership

How many were there? Which way we’re they headed? How fast were they moving? I must find them; I am their leader.

I am amazed by our culture’s fixation on the individuals who lead. It is as if there is nothing else to talk about other than the top performers in sports, business, government, and in our schools and our churches. In many people, I sense a strong belief that if their circumstances were reversed they could do a far better job of leading. Is it any wonder that with all of the hyper-criticism dominating the airwaves, that there is a burgeoning crisis of leadership in so many critical aspects of society?

I readily admit that I expect too much of the leaders in my life. I shouldn’t hold them accountable for my unrealistic expectations. I marvel at the pressure that comes with leading a group or an entity of any real significance. We presume that our leaders will perpetually be on their game; always firing on the correct mental and strategic cylinders. What makes leading doubly tough is that most followers do not expect their leaders to ever slow down, stop, admit that they are lost, and ask for directions. Opinion polls indicate that the public has very little appreciation for or trust in its leaders. We should pray more for our leaders — theirs is a lonely road.

Sometimes it helps me to be more accepting and supportive of those in leadership positions when I rigorously examine how effectively I am leading in own life. There are times when I fail to execute in my role as leader. As is always the case, it is far easier to recognize the failure in others. I am working to end this dysfunction; it serves nobody.

Over time, I have come to understand that if I am going to excel in leadership, then I had better perfect my skills of follower-ship.

It is a funny word…follower-ship. Until recently, I thought that I had made it up. While composing my thoughts for this Crux, I was surprised that the spell check recognized the word. I was totally prepared to override my IPad when it suggested another word. This is great news…maybe the idea is trending and gaining some much needed momentum within important segments of our culture.

Historically, I have not been the best follower. I naturally resist falling in line or toiling away in what I perceive to be an unimportant role.

Interestingly, I have not yet heard of a main-stream class or workshop that extols the virtues of follower-ship or sets out to impart the skill. For the life of me, I can’t remember hearing someone admit to me that they were focused on developing better follower-ship skills or working to learn effective personal follower-ship. Unless you are a sheep, a lemming or a Twitter devotee, then following is mostly viewed as undignified these days.

It takes humility and trust to be a good follower; sadly these virtues can run in short supply. When I commit myself to following, I have to subordinate my own will and that can be very difficult. Discipline is required of me to maintain my resolve and stay with it. When the immediate future appears daunting and bleak; staying focused on my specific role is easier said than done! As a follower, I try my best to detach from outcomes: I must not continually pull up the flowers of my good effort and still expect my discipline to take root.

To be a great coach, it helps you were first a coachable player. Since I know how important it is to feel affirmed in my role as a leader, I have a growing desire to offer affirmations to those leading me. I am more willing than ever before to more overtly give what I am so interested in getting.

The quote at the start of this particular Crux is one of my favorites. I could not determine who originally coined it; but I am certain that each of us has felt that same bewilderment at one time or another. It also reminds me to laugh at myself because I know how disconnected I can become as a leader. Many times in business and at home, I have turned around to check on those in my charge and been shocked to realize that there was no one following behind.

At different times in my life I’ll be challenged to yield to other good people trying to do good things. This doesn’t diminish me…it frees me! Sometimes I lead and other times I follow; it is an important part of staying balanced and focused.

I’ll give leaders a break because the real and lasting solution for the world’s weariness is a massive number of followers, who have metaphorically sold everything to go all-in on being good and virtuous.

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