In high school, I took a class called “Leadership” (most vague class name in the history of the world) and on my college applications I was encouraged to fill out a section called “Leadership Experience.”
I never saw a section titled “Times You Learned to Cooperate with Others and Learned Life is Really About Give and Take.” I propose we add that. Are you listening, College Board?
I’ve been conditioned to believe that if you don’t know how to lead, you don’t know how to do anything. Society has taught us that to be successful, you have to be a leader. Society has taught us that only leaders can own their own companies, inspire people, and make a difference. Type A Personalities run the classroom and the office from the time we learn the alphabet to the time we retire. Those other people (does anyone even know the letter of their personality?) are lovingly deemed “followers.”
Is it just me or does the word “followers” leave an extremely bad taste in your mouth? To me, it implies that those who don’t lead are weak, those who don’t lead just aren’t powerful or motivated enough to know how to lead. We’ve been taught to believe that our voices need to be heard, that we deserve to have the last word, that our opinions are the most important of all and if for some reason, we decide not to offer them we are just asking to be manipulated, walked on, and ignored. Some people’s lives (Looking at you, Corporate America) are a constant power struggle in which leaders become stronger while so-called followers are pushed into a corner.
Since I’ve graduated from college, I’ve realized not everyone was meant to lead. I don’t even know if I’m a leader. I thought I was in high school and college. But now, I just think I was bullied into believing that you have to be a leader or else you’re just some nobody that falls into the monotony of a 9-5.
I go into work, offer my opinions, take feedback well and do my job. I don’t feel the need to monopolize every conversation and make sure that at the end of the day my voice was the one that was heard louder than everyone else’s.
I’m not afraid to make a decision. I just want other people to be happy. I enjoy watching people work as a team to accomplish a common goal – whether it be at work, at home, in the gym, on a team, or just trying to change a tire.
With being a “follower” comes a sort of humbleness that is easy to lose sight of when you are so often deemed a leader. Some of the greatest people I know aren’t natural born leaders. They are often called shy, pushovers, or spineless. When really, they are probably the strongest of us all.
Sometimes the power comes from knowing when to sit back and let someone else take the reigns. The power comes from creative collaboration that you could have never done alone. The power comes from learning to be a follower in a society that teaches you only how to be a leader. The power comes from really learning how to listen and really listening to learn.