Friday, August 01, 2003

The follower is underappreciated.

Leaders -- those who administer, who influence, who lead by example, or who explore new areas -- are important. But the word leader is multi-faceted. The sense in which a competent administrator leads need not be the same as the sense in which a scientific explorer leads. Members of the cult of leadership, though, hold that leadership is not a collection of activities, loosely related, which share a common term only by the vagaries of language evolution. Nay, leadership is a virtue! These are the people who write high school graduation speeches in which they address tomorrow's leaders, or who insist that we should stand behind our leaders solely because they lead.

But what of the follower? From the rhetoric of the cult of the leader, a follower might be a sheep-like animal, though without wool and perhaps with a milder odor. But the researcher who studies the literature is a follower. So is the student engaged by a lecture, and the scientist who verifies an experimental result. The engineers who detail the construction of a structure may follow the plans of an architect. Judges follow precedent. Done well, following is not passive and unquestioning. It is active and critical, the pursuit of the man still humble enough to believe his fellows and forebearers may have some ideas of merit.

Whether or not anyone chooses to follow my ideas, whether or not I'm ever stuffed into an administrative role, may I never lose the perspective to remain a follower.