Leaders and Leadership are presumably at the TOP. BUT – Not all team members share the same learning and demonstrate the same degree of internalization and improvement even under the same leader; not all children in the same family pick up the same values even when parents set the same example; not all citizens behave responsibly and contribute to positive change even when their community champions and idols lead all of them with one voice and in the same spirit; not all states, constituencies and the beneficiaries of a country progress, even under the same political regime.
Would the right leadership then mean the ability to get people to act, behave and respond in ONE manner towards ONE objective? Would it mean, the right leadership will evoke the same emotions in me as it would in my colleagues and peers? Would it mean that the right leadership would motivate the same action irrespective of who is following the leader? Has this been demonstrated in your own personal and professional circles, your organisation, or in your country?
Why then leaders (who ever they are) and their leadership (manifested in different forms) are overrated ? Is leadership a skill, a trait, a value, a spiritual gift ? Are leaders born, raised and nurtured, coached or trained ? I wouldn’t even try to answer these as there must be a hundred thousand books, experts and self-proclaimed leaders, who endlessly propagate the benefit of leadership and the need to grow the so-called leadership clan at the TOP.
I want to shift my focus to those who are expected to listen, follow, mimic and aspire to be leaders of the new world. The Followers.
It takes guts to be a First Follower! You stand out and brave ridicule, yourself. Being a First Follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The First Follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the First Follower is the spark that makes the fire – Derek Sivers
Psychology and genetic behavioral studies and research have shown that the social skills of children in kindergarten and their ability to ‘self-control’ can determine what they will grow up into; how good a decision-maker they will be; what jobs they will pick; and how successful and happy they will be in life.
No doubt, early childhood influences are then important to create the right mindset amongst the followers (or leaders). Those who follow must be able to exercise NOT their right, but their ‘power of reasoning’ when choosing their leader. They must be able to question the intent of their leaders, their role and litmus-test their vision. The followers must be able to demonstrate greater leadership that will work magic on the group dynamics, behavior and action, all of which will form an evidence on how leadership is not what is at the TOP, but it is a ‘habit’ each one of us must be able to cultivate and translate into action at the right time, in the right context and for the right outcomes.
Throughout my career, I worked for many dynamic leaders, who were the most hated people I had known at that time. My colleagues also hated them – but there were only a few of us, who could learn or get inspired by these hated leaders, only to grow as dynamic professionals. The rest, even when we meet each other after nearly two decades into our careers, still linger on their memories of hate, and have nothing much to offer, which was also the case when they started their careers. Why did some of us respond differently to the same leader? The leader was effective with some, as some of us chose to demonstrate greater leadership by responding assertively, by changing unproductive behavior into positive action and much more.
In my own small team of 12 young and talented professionals, I am proud of everyone for showing some degree of responsibility (and skill) to make sense of my leadership in tapping their own potential and shaping their future. I would like to believe I led them, but the truth is they LED themselves… and I saw them grow at their own pace, learn as much as they needed to and they are where they exactly deserve to be today.
Followers are underplayed, underestimated and underrated, even when they are the true leaders – something that dawned upon me when I had a hearty session with my team last week, reflecting on their journey with me – from the day I recruited them to this day.
I say, FOLLOW to LEAD – your aspirations, your potential, your behavior, your actions towards something meaningful for you and the greater good of the world (if you are the one to believe in the greater purpose of being). You are your own LEADER and your LEADERSHIP can alone make a difference.
- Written by Kishore Ravuri