I remember being asked at a corporate event, “Are you a leader or a follower?”
The discussion leader was trying to elicit a response that would determine who would lead the groups in the next highly important training task which from memory was which team could build a bridge to span the longest gap out of nothing but a copy of a newspaper and six inches of tape.
‘Are you a leader or a follower’ is an overly simplistic question; one which I think the only accurate answer is both.
On the day of building the newspaper bridge, I answered confidently “I’m a leader!”. We lost the competition possibly because everyone in the team also declared they were leaders.
At times we all need to be followers:
For the harmony of the group and success of a shared goal we sometimes need to follow.
For our own mental health, there are times we need to let others carry the burden.
For our credibility, we need to follow those who are better placed, equipped or skilled to do things we are not.
For our own development, we need to follow those we can learn off.
As a Christian, I also believe I need to follow God to keep spiritually healthy. I have a suspicion anyone who lives their lives solely as a leader is bound to fail and is displaying more arrogance than leadership skill.
As well as being followers all of us are called to be leaders at times. Some will be placed into a leadership capacity in an organised group such as leading our work colleagues in a team or scout, swimming, or football club. All of us at times have the opportunity (and sometimes necessity) to lead, neighbours, school friends, our families, children in activities and in how we interact with each other – this leadership is often about how we lead ourselves. Self-leadership is often overlooked but is an essential task, where we intentionally set out to do something in a specific way or change something about ourselves or the way we react to situation or others. As a follower of Jesus, the way I act, the things I do and say should reflect my beliefs. Those bits in the bible I have read about honouring people, defending the weak, clothing the poor, feeding the hungry have to be reflected in the way I lead myself. And that is before we get to the big one, ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. These things are not easy. Leadership is not easy whatever level of leadership it is.
Sometimes it feels easier to disengage and be only a follower, to have not cares and responsibilities.
Written on the wall of the room Mother Theresa lived in was the following words.
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centred. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.*
Words that I find help get through the challenges of leadership whatever level of leadership that is.
The answer to the questions, ‘are you a leader or a follower?’ needs to be “I am both”, it is not an either-or question. The difficulty is understanding when to be which and in what measure. That is something I am continually learning, often by getting it wrong.
* Mother Theresa’s poem is based on ‘The Paradoxical Commandments’ by Dr Kent M. Keith as part of a booklet for student leaders. More information can be found on the Paradoxical Commandments website and the Paradoxical Commandments for Christians site