Why can’t a leader also be a follower?

Institutions and organizations have long touted the necessity for student and youth leadership.  These opportunities for advancement commence in early high school–positions in student government, honor societies, national organizations, clubs and sports teams encourage the initiative to take command of the situation and lead the pretend army to victory.

And, from what I’ve noticed, once you get to college, those opportunities multiply. Quickly.  Resident Assistants, Organizational Ambassadors, and Directors and Executives of nationally-run societies, whether it be SWE or Pi Alpha Alpha, offer enrichment and the ability to refine necessary skills for both career and personal endeavors.

I believe that anyone can be a leader.  Contrary to what I thought in the past, I don’t think that the ability to govern a group of people is specific to a certain personality type, gender, age, or field of work.  Everyone can be a leader–the style and quality of refined skills, however, is where they might differ.

I believe that anyone can be a follower.  Yes, some may challenge the leader if they disagree with what s/he believes, but even that disagreement illustrates a certain level of interest in the leader’s words.  I’m not talking about blind faith in a leader, either–I’m referring to educated, rational support of a figure.

I believe that followers make good leaders.  Leaders who understand the psychology of their backing parties are at a severe advantage in terms of gaining support and appreciation.  I think of it like this: former swimmers could make excellent swim coaches because they first-handedly understand the repercussions of the coach’s actions.  To be able to comprehend what makes a good leader is what a follower can use to propel him/her towards said status.

But here’s where I get stuck–I’m not sure that we as a society emphasize enough that it’s also important for a leader to know when to follow.  This is certainly not to say that leaders are incapable of following a leader of their superior; for example, an RA reports to his/her Coordinator, who might report to the Assistant Director, who might report to the Senior Director (and the chain of command builds from there).  I believe that sometimes, students are encouraged to lead their peers to the point where they’re hesitant to follow them.  It’s as if everyone has to always be the one to come up with the new, best idea– it’s never as highly touted when we just agree with a good idea… we have to come up with it ourselves.  Why do we sometimes feel the need to have to be the only one to start a movement, and why is just following it insufficient?

I think that leadership seminars should emphasize that, without followers, there would be no leaders.  I don’t think you always have to be the one to come up with the next great idea– I think recognizing the value in said idea is equally important.  I believe leaders should recognize that it’s okay to follow, and it isn’t demoting.  The way I see it, leadership promotes advancement and innovation, and following promotes togetherness and unity.



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