April 11, 2012

Follow the Leader

By Andrew at 3:14 PM


A few days ago I was listening to the radio on my way back from a hike.  Now, I do not normally listen to “talk” radio, preferring music stations most of the time, but with the hills on the peninsula in the Bay area I sometimes “channel surf” when out of range of frequented stations.  While scanning the stations, a program on NPR caught my attention in which the guest speaker was discussing his new book about how all types of leadership heirarchies are unwarranted.  To me, the most ironic part of the whole interview was that this author seemed to want to “lead” this “leaderless revolution!”

As a disclaimer, I was unable to listen to the interview in its entirety, but I did hear enough to get me thinking about the role of leadership and hierarchy in our world.  Leadership is a funny thing.  People seldom crave the ability to blindly “follow” another, yet it is not uncommon for a motivating leader to acquire a large following.  Oftentimes, humans wish to be a part of a movement or collaboration, yet they do not necessarily stop to think about the hierarchy and leadership of an endeavor.  Setting aside the politics of such a discussion, I have been thinking recently about what the actual role and need for a leader in humanity should be.

The best leaders are often placed into their lifetime role of leadership without explicitly soliciting the position, at least initially.  Sure, the President must be elected, in which case he must desire to run for election, but I am thinking on a more basic level, looking back to the days of playtime and discovering the child who made the decisions as to which games would be played.  Rather than being interested in becoming the leader of a mega-corporation, the child will likely be more interested in having an enjoyable time with his comrades, and, by nature of his personality, he may be more inclined to presume that his personal idea of playtime is the most enjoyable one for his friends, at least if he cares about what the other children enjoy.  I believe that, were a scientific study performed, we would discover at least a correlation between the childhood interactions and adulthood positions of some of the greatest leaders.

Inherent in the establishment of leadership is the concept of hierarchy.  Hierarchy in terms of the human condition necessitates the jurisdiction of certain individuals over the affairs of others, oftentimes with the vertical distribution of such leadership becoming mutiple levels deep.  Personally, I am not a huge fan of a deep hierarchical makeup, but I do realize that at least some level of hierarchy is necessary due to the depraved nature of our human condition.  Everyone has specific areas in life that require outside help in governing, whether it be the workplace, public social interactions, and so on.  For the most part, this leadership is necessary to maintain a civil form of social interaction, yet it can also greatly aid in a more efficient societal makeup.  In short, leadership roles allow us to work together in concert, in ways that would otherwise not be possible were we to tackle matters individually.  Since humans tend toward disruption, a leaderless endeavor will almost always tend toward chaos.

Now, this is not an excuse for leaders to take advantage of those under their jurisdiction.  Instead, I would see this as more of a challenge for those placed in positions of leadership to accurately assess the impact of their own actions on the lives of those around them.  Indeed, much trust is needed in such people.  That makes their role all the more important.  As I have learned over time, it is extremely easy for someone to demand that they be followed, yet it is much, much more difficult to maintain that role of leadership with desireable results and still retain the trust and confidence of those around them.  Just as important as it is to have leaders in the first place, it is even more important to have humble, proactive, and caring leaders to assist us through this amazing journey called life.

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