Being A Leader, A Follower, Or Both

I have a friend that sometimes annoys the hell out of me when she says:

“That person is such a follower, they’re not a leader, they just do what ever that other guy wants. They can’t think for themselves.”

The names have been removed to protect the innocent.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before and sometimes I even question myself and wonder where I fall in this scenario. Am I a leader? Or a follower? Do I just take orders and advice blindly, or do I put some thought into it first? Most recently, while pondering the cracks in my ceiling before falling asleep, (okay there are none, but it sets a mood) I realized it’s beneficial to be a little bit of both. We should know when it’s best for us to let our inner leader shine and take command, and know when to let someone else do the driving, be the follower we need to be, and learn a thing or two. Sometimes we might even realize that we’re following to a point that we’ve stopped thinking for ourselves, and that’s not a good thing. When we do that, we give up a part of who we are, a slice of our identity, a hand it over to someone that may or may not know what’s in our best interest. That sort of following can be seen in many areas of society, most notably in religious organizations and political affiliations.

Critical thinking and free thought has turned into a scarce commodity in our country. From the time we wake up, to the time we go to sleep, we are bombarded with information that attempts, in most cases, to make us think a certain way in regards to what we buy, who we give money to, who we vote for and what we should have for dinner… or not. This relentless feed of choices and decisions that must be made results in feeling overwhelmed, and we willingly, and quite gratefully, hand those decisions to others to be made on our behalf. Look no further than a restaurant which offers meals by numbers to see this in action. Many customers, if not most, feel a certain sense of relief when a meal is neatly combined with other options, leaving the guess work to someone else. It’s often masked as being “convenient” but in fact we’re just giving up control… and it’s okay.

Here’s where it can get rather tricky. After you’ve ordered enough value meals, and clicked “I Agree.” on hundreds of terms and conditions and privacy notices, your brain becomes hard wired for “following,” and trusting others with all sorts of rights and privileges, which you have no clue what they actually do or don’t include. As a nation we have been trained to “click” and move on, without reason to believe otherwise. Pretty scary shit if you ask me. Not only because of the obvious ramifications, which we’re currently seeing played out on the global stage, but this sort of willingness to give up control can bleed into our personal lives as well, and with equally devastating consequences.

Apple’s never ending license agreement which everyone seems to agree to or they can’t use their phones.

Balance is critical in our lives, now more than ever before. In every aspect of our society we are being pushed in one direction, or being pulled in another. Choosing when to lead and when to follow is no different. Finding that sweet spot of knowing is the key. For some people, especially supreme independent thinkers (and we’re not all independent thinkers trust you me,) this is an easier task since decisions are made with the utmost objectivity. For others, it can’t be daunting and arduous, as many don’t feel comfortable making decisions on their own. So when do we know when to step in and take the lead? By listening to our gut, our primal instincts… otherwise known as our stomachs.

When you trust someone to make decisions for you, it should feel fluid and relaxing, without fear or prejudice. You should be able to down a greasy pork sandwich with ease at the same time you’re allowing this individual, or organization, to take the reins and lead you cross-country across the Oregon Trail. However, when you get that sick to your stomach feeling, or you find yourself becoming agitated or resented, it’s time to take a step back and figure out if this is what you signed up for. Perhaps this isn’t the right church, political party, person to date, pretty girl to marry or value meal to order. Listening to your heart, or rather your stomach, will give you a clear indication when something just isn’t right and it’s time to move on. Or in some cases, do more research. Humans have an incredible innate ability to sense deception and danger if they would only learn to trust it, not ignore the signs or not turn it off intentionally and follow blindly. Alternatively, this can be a clear indication that you’ve reached a point in your life when you’re ready to spread your own wings, and become a leader yourself.

The next time that friend of mine criticizes someone for not being a leader, they might not being seeing the entire picture. Perhaps this is by choice, and they’re choosing the right time for subservience, as a tactical advantage of sorts. Or perhaps they’re stuck, fallen into the sticky trap that is constant noise coming from every possible information source imaginable, and they just need to disconnect and detox for a while. What ever the reason, it all boils down to being aware that you actually have choices, and why you’re making them. Knowing what’s for dinner wouldn’t hurt either.



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