Lead and follow are ordinary words. We accept and use them as though one explains the other and neither can be misunderstood. But are they so simple after all? I think not. Leader presumes follower. Follower presumes leader. But presumption is a dangerous thing. There is an old saying, "Father, am I today guilty of the sin of assumption?"
Leader and follower imply the continual freedom and independent judgement of both. A true leader cannot be bound to lead. A true follower cannot be bound to follow. The moment they are bound, they are no longer leader and follower. One who is coerced to the purpose, objective, or preference of another is not a follower in any sense of the word, but becomes an object of manipulation. Nor is the leader a true leader of those so manipulated. If the behavior of either is bound, whether by circumstance, force, economic necessity, or contractual arrangement, the relationship is altered to one of superior/subordinate, or manager/employee, or master/servant, or owner/slave. All such relationships are materially different than leader/follower, for they assume the use of authority to direct or control the behavior of others. All such relationships, to one degree or another, are based on compulsion or necessity; to be more precise, on tyranny.
The best definition of "Lead" I have ever found is said to have originated in a four-hundred-year old Scottish dictionary: "To go before and show the way." Follow, of necessity, then means to go where someone has gone before and shown the way. That perspective of lead and follow brings forth a marvelous word that has fallen into disuse: "Educe /eh-d-yuce." It means "to bring or draw forth something already present in a latent, or undeveloped form." It can be contrasted with "Induce," which means "to prevail upon; move by persuasion or influence -- to impel, incite, or urge." Where behavior is educed, their lies leadership. Where behavior is induced, there lies manipulation. Where behavior is compelled, there lies tyranny.
Over the years, I've enjoyed hundreds of discussions with groups at every level of a wide variety of organizations about management---either aspirations to it, dissatisfaction with it, or confusion about it. To avoid ambiguity, each person is asked to describe the single, most important responsibility of any manager. The incredibly diverse responses have one thing in common: they are downward looking. They have to do with exercise of authority---with selecting employees, motivating them, training them, appraising them, organizing them, directing them, controlling them. That perception is dead wrong.
The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self. One's own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, temperament, words, and acts. It is never-ending, difficult work, largely ignored in most circumstances. The reason it is ignored is not complicated. It is precisely because it is much more difficult than prescribing and controlling the behavior of others.
Without exceptional management of self, no one is fit for authority, no matter how much they acquire. In fact, the more authority they acquire the more dangerous they become. It is management of self that should occupy a substantial portion of our energy, time, and ability. In the process, the ethical, moral, and spiritual dimensions of self are inescapable. When they think deeply enough about it, it is rare when anyone fails to accept that management of self is the paramount responsibility? Should it not have thirty-five percent of our time and ability?
Asked to identify the second responsibility elicits equally diverse responses, again downward looking. Another mistake. The second responsibility is to manage those with authority over us: bosses, supervisors, directors, regulators ad infinitum. Without their support, how can we follow conviction, exercise judgement, use creative ability, achieve constructive results, or create conditions by which others can do the same? Devoting twenty-five percent of our time and ability to managing those with authority over us is not too much.
Asked for the third responsibility, people become a bit uneasy and uncertain, yet their thoughts remain on subordinates. Another mistake. The third responsibility is to manage peers--those over whom we have no authority, and who have no authority over us--associates, competitors, suppliers, customers. Without their respect and confidence little can be accomplished. Peers can make a small heaven or hell of our life. Is it not wise to devote twenty-five percent of our time and energy to management of peers?
Asked for the fourth responsibility, people have difficulty coming up with an answer. They are now wary of thinking of subordinates but there is no one left. This time they are right. The fourth responsibility is to manage those over whom we have authority. The common response is that most of their time and energy will be consumed managing self, superiors, and peers. There will be little left to manage subordinates. Precisely right!
But what if one selects people of good character, introduces them to the concept, educes them to practice it, and to replicate it with those they in turn employ? If those over whom we have authority properly manage themselves, properly manage us, properly manage their peers and teach those they employ to do the same, what is there to do but see that they are properly recognized and rewarded, and stay out of their way?
The obvious question then always erupts. How can you manage bosses and peers without authority over them? The answer is equally obvious. You cannot! But can you understand them? Can you persuade them? Can you motivate them? Can you disturb them? Can you influence them? Can you forgive them? Can you set them an example? Eventually the word will emerge. Can you lead them? Can you go before and show the way?
Of course you can, provided only that you have properly led yourself. There are no rules and regulations so rigorous, no organization so hierarchical, no bosses so domineering, that they can prevent such use of your energy, ingenuity, and ability. The real power is yours, not theirs.
Forget management. Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, employ good people and free them to do the same. All else is trivia!
If you fail, the responsibility is entirely your own. There is no one to blame but yourself. At first that seems an impossible burden to bear. Upon reflection, it is neither to be feared nor avoided. Success, while it may provide encouragement, build confidence, and be joyful indeed, teaches an insidious lesson--to have too high an opinion of self. It is from failure that amazing growth and grace so often come, provided only that one can recognize it, admit it, learn from it, rise above it, and try again. There is no reason to be discouraged by shortcomings. True leadership presumes a standard quite beyond human perfectibility, and that is quite right. The only question of importance is whether one is steadily rising in the scale.
It is easy to test this concept. Reflect a moment on group endeavors of which you are an observer rather than participant. If your interest runs to sports you can undoubtedly remember when a team seemed to rise above the ability of the players and achieve a magical, seemingly effortless performance. "In the zone' in the parlance of sports. The same phenomenon can be observed in the ballet, the theater, the symphony, in fact any group endeavor, including business and government.
Every choreographer, conductor and coach, or for that matter, corporation executive has tried to distill the essence of such performance. Countless others have tried to explain and reduce to a controlled measurable, repeatable process. That has never been done and never will be. It is easily observed, universally admired and occasionally experienced. It is rarely long sustained but can occasionally be repeated. It arises spontaneously from the relationships and interaction of the individuals who compose the group. Some groups seem able to achieve it with some consistency, just as some leaders are able to create the conditions under which it can occur in different organizations. But none of them can predict when or how it will happen.
To be precises, one cannot speak of causing organizations to achieve superlative performance, for no one can cause it to happen. Leaders can only recognize and modify conditions that prevent it; perceive and articulate a sense of community and vision of the future, along with a body of principles of behavior in pursuit of that vision, to which people can become passionately committed, then encourage and enable them to bring forth the the extraordinary capabilities that lie trapped in everyone waiting to be educed.
Without question, the most abundant, least expensive, most underutilized and constantly abused resource in the world today is human ingenuity. The source of that abuse is mechanistic, Industrial Age, hierarchical, domination concepts of organization and the management practices they spawn.
It is instructive to look into the nature of leaders who have had a profound affect on the direction of society. Buddha, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Christ, Mohammed, Galileo, Lao Tzu, Newton, Thoreau--the list goes on and on, from every race, in every field of endeavor. Few came from positions of wealth and power. Few were born to families of fame or fortune. Few were great orators. None were elected to do what they did. None had permission to do what they did. Most were met with contempt and derision. Yet, somehow, their lives had profound affect on the consciousness of mankind.
What they had in common was uncommon ability to get beyond how things were, how they are, and how they might become, and immerse themselves in how they ought to be. But even a clear vision of how things ought to be was not the essential thing. The essential thing was conviction that the world as they believed ought to be already existed in the minds and hearts of all people and could be educed if one lived in accordance with that belief.
They did not do so in pursuit of fame, money, power or material gain. They did so because they could not do otherwise, because it was what they had become. They lived lives of such authenticity that it gave what they then had to say compelling force and effect. The way they lived their lives educed behavior that lies buried in everyone, waiting to come forth. They went before and showed the way.
One must also examine corrupt leaders who have induced or compelled abominable behavior: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and a host of others throughout history. What they had in common is not difficult to see. Lust for power, wealth, and fame, together with a willingness to ruthlessly use force and barbarity to bend others to their will. What differentiates the despotic from the beneficent leader is values; the moral, ethical, and spiritual content of the purpose and principles from which they derive their being. Corrupt leaders believe in a world as they want it to become, not as it ought to be, and believe such a world is also in existence, buried in everyone, waiting for someone powerful enough to bend them to his will.
The answer to what may be the greatest question of the millennium is resting in the heart and soul of every person alive today, especially the young, waiting to be educed, or compelled. What will be their consciousness, their perception, their values, their internal model of reality? Will it be beneficent, pacific, equitable, and just? Or will it be destructive, violent, inequitable and unjust? What will be their becoming? Change of consciousness and a different internal model of reality is the foundation without which beneficent institutional change is impossible, and with which it is inevitable. To do so is not the sole prerogative of famous leaders. They are, for all their accomplishments and notoriety, accidents of time and circumstance. Everyone is a born leader. Everyone has power to lead themselves, lead their superiors, lead their peers, and free others to do the same. No one is without influence. Everyone has choices to make about where they will lead, and where they will be led. No one is without power to choose wisely and well.
We must examine the concept of leader and follower with new eyes. We must examine the concept of superior and subordinate with increasing skepticism. We must examine the concept of management and labor with new perspective. And we must examine the nature of organizations that demand such archaic concepts with entirely different consciousness.
It is true leadership; leadership by everyone; leadership in, up, around and down this world so badly needs, and domination management it so sadly gets.