Ann Parker here, getting settled into the every-other-Tuesday spot that I share with Priscilla Royal (who posts on the *other* every-other-Tuesday).
Lead or follow is the theme of the week. I warn you: This is a hot-button topic for me. The sound you hear is probably me gritting my teeth.
Part of my reaction comes from having shepherded a couple of kids through K-12 and into college, and having been an observer to all manner of "be a leader!" pep talk from the very beginning.
College applications are the worst offenders.
I defy you to find a single application that does not ask (in some form or another): "Describe your leadership capabilities" or "Discuss ways that you have exhibited strong leadership skills" or "Tell us about a time when you were a leader. How did you help others grow?" and so on.
All this cultural emphasis on being a leader has a lot of kids screaming (from a very early age), "Follow me! Follow me!" And it's not just on the school playground. Visited Facebook lately? Or Twitter? Everyone is yammering "Follow me!"
What I think this world needs is more critically thinking, intelligent followers. Followers who know how to THINK, how to analyze, how to compare and contrast ... In short, followers who can discern the qualities and philosophies of all these (ahem) leaders, and then make informed decisions about who to follow, decisions based on more than clever sound bites, twitter feeds, or hairstyles. (Michael Black wrote a great post about the qualities of leadership yesterday. If you're interested, check it out here.)
I'm looking forward to someday reading a book about the importance of being a discerning follower that might be akin to the book QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS. Followers are important; without followers, there are no leaders. And when there are no good leaders to follow, perhaps it is time to strike out on one's own, and neither lead nor follow.
Finally, I leave you with a last quote to ponder:
I am reminded how hollow the label of leadership sometimes is and how heroic followership can be. —Warren Bennis