There are no leaders without followers. And vice versa – there are no followers without leaders. As the old song had it, “You can’t have one without the other.”
About “leaders” - we often try to pretend that there are such people – or such functions – independently. Not possible. Media-made celebrities are “leaders” because they have devoted followers. People who get a lot of press usually have a lot of followers. Are they “leaders”? Is the president a “leader” because lots of folk voted for him (or her)?
If you follow some precept that you read somewhere but can’t attach a name to it, aren’t you still being led, even though anonymously? If you have a great need to be liked by others, who’s leading and who’s following? If you like someone and give them the benefit of the doubt, who’s leading (or following) whom? If you are a rabid fan of some rock star, are you the leader or the follower?
It seems obvious that you can’t have the one without the other. If you are in a position to shut off a subordinate’s paycheck, does that make you a leader – or the other person a follower? If you follow someone’s lead out of fear – or ignorance - does that make a leader out of the other person, a bone fide follower out of you?
We’re not very good at thinking about interdependence in our culture. We’re more of a something-caused-something-else kind of culture. We have nouns and then we have verbs, so we are susceptible to thinking that the leader causes what followers do. If you consider that critically, you can see that it doesn’t quite work that way. I might be able to kill you, but there is no way I can force you to like me – or to follow my lead. Children understand that very well before they are forced into a somebody – caused – somebody else to do this or that view of the world.
The leader-follower relationship is a very complex one. To attribute the magic solely to a “leader” misses the point. If the leader needs a follower in order to be a leader, and if the follower needs a leader in order to be a follower, their interdependence can’t be “deconstructed.” The success of either depends upon the relationship. Ask any married couple. Ask any teacher. Ask any loser. Ask the person who provides her own leadership, and who follows her own leadership. The magic is in the compounding, not in the one or the other.
Are you following me here? Or, should you be?