By: Danny Brooks
“Be a leader, not a follower.” This was what my high school principal said over the announcements EVERY DAY. We started making fun of it we heard it so much. Not all of our high school teasing was completely cruel. We had questions about the motto and encouragement we heard every day. If everyone is a leader, who will follow all of these leaders? If I become a bad leader and start a cult or something, does that make me a better person than if I stayed a follower?
We were half joking and as an adult, I understand my principal’s intentions and they were good. He wanted us to not be led astray by bad leaders. People who don’t take control of their own path and just follow other people without question often get taken advantage of. He wanted us to forge our own path towards success and happiness and all the other good things in the world. I get that now. But I still don’t think everyone has to be a leader. I’m going to talk about what it means to be a follower.
Follower?!?! Who wants to be a follower? Everyone wants to be a leader, right? “I aint no follower”. I can hear your future complaints through my screen already and they are wrong. Go look at how many people you follow on Twitter. List off all of the celebrities, music artists, YouTubers, and social influencers you have followed in the past month. We all follow someone or something. I don’t think being a follower is bad, but I think that there is a difference between being a wise follower and a blind follower.
I’m an introvert and, although I’ve learned to be a leader when I need to be, sometimes I prefer to stay out of the spotlight, sit in the back of class, or work behind the scenes. I don’t always want the weight and responsibility that comes with leading. When you’re leading and you mess up, everyone looks at you for blame and answers. So I don’t think being a follower is always a bad thing, but what’s the difference between a wise and blind follower?
A wise follower knows the limitations of those that they follow. Do you really like a celeb and keep up with whatever they do? Cool. Do you agree with every word that comes out of their mouth? You shouldn’t. When that athlete or music artist you really likes says something about politics or religion or other serious issues, you have to remember that it’s not their specialty. They may be right, but honestly they are just another person with an opinion. Your coworker or history teacher might be way smarter and know way more about the topic if you’d listen to them. When a leader of ours voices an opinion, just remember that it’s one opinion from one person in a world full of people and their opinions. Fact check it. Talk to other people and hear different perspectives than that of your leaders or of yourself.
A wise follower knows how to set boundaries with their leader. When your leader asks you for money or wants you to do something, if you don’t agree with it, don’t do it. You shouldn’t give of your time and money out of duty and obligation. A good leader wants willing and cheerful followers, not people who have been forced to follow. A good leader should respect your choice. A good leader will answer your questions. If a leader asks me for money and I ask them why and they get mad, no money for you! If someone wants my money or time and can’t answer my doubts and concerns then they aren’t worthy of it. A good leader loves teachable moments with their followers and will use all of their questions as a way to educate and encourage them. A good leader is patient and cares for their followers.
I learned how to be a leader and take initiative when I had to throughout high school and college, but I also learned how to follow and who to follow. I started following some of the most influential people of my life in my younger years. That list includes mentors, thinkers, writers, artists, speakers, and more; some of which have been dead for years or centuries. I have never followed someone without greatly questioning if they are a good person to follow and I have always benefited greatly from the people I have chosen to follow. So instead of “Be a leader, not a follower”, be a good leader or a wise follower.
Interested in learning more about good leading and wise following? Podcast is soon to follow.