Leadership Smeadership

by - July 06, 2011

What's the deal with leadership anyway? We're all a little obsessed with it. There are seminars, websites, conferences, a whole section at Barnes and Noble devoted to it. We study it, crave it, mimick it, and envy it in others.

We encourage it in our children. Even before they can walk and talk, we're pointing out leadership traits in their hardly budding personalities. "See how Junior turns his face away from that jar of Gerber squash, Ashley? He definitely knows how to get what he wants. He's gonna be a leader." I always thought that was just a toddler being a toddler, stubborn and opinionated, just like the rest of us. Silly me.

Leaders take office. Leaders have long, impressive resumes. Leaders take fledgling companies and drive them like cattle to the Fortune 500. Leaders connote fame and fortune. Leaders make history and duplicate themselves with happy, successful,over-achieving children who grow up into more leaders.

I don't have a problem with leadership, except that I'm mostly a follower type. See what just happened? I can't even admit with pride that I'm a follower — period. I have to soften it by saying "follower type," as if in apology rather than with confidence. Not to mention that there's no support group, newsletter, nor businessman's luncheons at First Church for busy Christian followers. Not even a rehab group.

But maybe there should be. It would be refreshing to see a shift away from exalting leadership and disdaining followership. Has that word even been coined? (It has — I looked it up. But it entered our vocabulary a full century later than the word leadership did — following the leader even in this.) Followership may not be as glamorous or in vogue as its flashy alter-ego, but it is necessary. After all, leaders are only leading if they turn around and see someone following. Leading and following are so closely related, in fact, that one can't be defined apart from the other, so it is rather baffling how one can be so beloved and the other so piteous.

But being a follower has proved to be an asset in my life in many ways.

It has helped me to be a submissive wife. As my marriage has grown in maturity and longevity, following my husband's lead has become a thing of growing beauty. I am not overstating it when I say that it is a silver bullet for a happy marriage that is actually within a woman's power. This may come as a surprise, but it shouldn't. The secret's been laid bare in scripture since days of old. Perhaps we don't heed this wisdom because we don't value following. Following him is a relief and a joy.

It helps me obey the many commands of the Lord. In John 10:1-8 Jesus likens his followers to sheep. Granted, sheep are simple animals and not self-sufficent, but they don't follow blindly. They know the voice of their shepherd and will follow only him, even to the point of fleeing a strange voice. This is not mindless, weak activity. It is noble and honorable devotion that involves scrutinous discernment. Follower tendencies can only be an asset in our efforts to obey Jesus, and I for one can use all the help I can get.

I model before my children that followership is a beautiful thing, something to aspire to. Perhaps they might latch onto the beauty in it and somehow incorporate it in their asset pool, especially if leadership really is in their future.

Followership has a bad rap, lacks marketability, boasts few spotlighted role models, and has no famous gurus spewing forth followership advice for the hungry masses. Despite all this, I have given in to my tendency to be a follower. It is the bent in which God created me, and I have come to embrace it. I admit it proudly, as a profession rather than a confession. It is a trait that has served me well, often bringing peace to my home, rest to my soul, delight to my husband, and develops a valuable character trait in my children.

I want Jesus to be able to look down and see that, indeed, he is leading, because I am in front of him, in His lap, following. He was the ultimate follower; He was the forward face of God on the Earth doing only the Father's will (John 5:19). And come to think of it, his penned words are the longest running on the New York Best Sellers List. Perhaps there's a followership guru after all.

Linking my thoughts today with Ann and Emily.

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  1. Lots to ponder here. Serious stuff but you also made me chuckle and nod with, "I always thought that was just a toddler being a toddler, stubborn and opinionated, just like the rest of us. Silly me." and the follower guru. So true.

  2. i like your post and I agree that following helps in a marriage. Sorry, I'd love to write you a flowering, encouraging comment, but my words have gotten lost again.

  3. it takes so much humility to be a follower. and yet, it's the only way, isn't it? the only way to heaven... beautiful, challenging post, friend.

  4. Bravo! This has the "lead" in my favorite post contest! : ) I agree that it takes true humility to just simply follow. I needed to hear this today ...on my way down the ladder. Gulp.

  5. "Followership may not be as glamorous or in vogue as its flashy alter-ego, but it is necessary."

    You're right. One cannot be defined without the other, yet our culture exalts the one and disdains the other.

    In many ways, I lead. I lead a Bible study. I lead my children. But most importantly of all, I follow Jesus.

    I love this post.


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