TED Conversations

Michael Clausen

This conversation is closed.

The leader or the follower?

With any idea or movement, the leader stands out as the core, the person who deserves credit for all. We commend leaders and and aspire to be them. The followers, however, get the short end of the stick. People do not realize that followers often emulate other followers, not leaders. They can relate to followers and receive motivation more easily. Nevertheless, leaders are necessary. They create the ideas. But what idea can grow without the follower?

Who, in your opinion, is more important: the leader or the follower?

Share:
  • thumb
    Sep 3 2011: I have never heard of a truly great leader that didnt become an expert in follwing.
    He who wishes to be greatest among you must be your servant
    -Jesus
  • Comment deleted

  • thumb
    Sep 4 2011: There is no greater person. They are a team working to get a specific job done. The leader is the one who should be organizing the events and protecting the people who do the work. The leader is the one who should be last in line at meal time, who should be the person who gets the things that the others need to complete the task. A follower is one who is comfortable doing the task assigned and accepts that position. Each person is the leader and the follower in their area of expertise. The problem is that we have been brain washed by media et al that the leader is the one who gets all the credit. Napoleon would be nothing with out his army, Astronauts would be nothing with out the people who build the rockets and space ships, Hospitals would not function with out nurses, aides, administrative folks and janitors etc. The leader carries the burden of making sure it all works together but with out the people he/she is nothing at all. It is a team all the time all the way. TAke a look at the TV show "Under cover Boss and you will see how leaders change when they understand the impact of what they do. At least that is my opinion.
    • Sep 5 2011: Should we start referring to them otherwise?

      Supervisors, facilitators, chemists, motivators...these seem like more exact titles
  • Sep 3 2011: The leader duplicates himself in others. He is a man builder. He helps those under him to grow big because he realizes that the more big men an organization has, the stronger it will be

    The leader can be led. He is not interested in having his own way , but in finding the best way. He has an open mind.

    - Wilferd Peterson from The Art of Living
    • thumb
      Sep 3 2011: Autumn,

      The leader may also be a women. Not to nit-pic, but part of developing leaders is helping people who are not considered leaders due to social norms to see themselves as such.

      It is important for women to see themselves"as (I hope Mr. Peterson wouldn't mind): people builders who help others who work with them grow big because s/he realizes that the more big people an organization has, the stronger it will be." The leader can be led. S/he is not interested in having their own way, but in finding the best way. S/he has an open mind."

      Andrea
      • Sep 4 2011: Andrea,
        I have to say your comment made me smile. I will first give you perspective on Wilferd's work as it was published in 1961 (I happen to own the first edition, thrift store find) I go back and forth on where I stand on being politically correct with things of this nature. I do not mind being corrected, however I would like to share how I read the 'man builder' aspect of this quiote.

        I see 'man builder' in the archetypal 'man' sense. I actually enjoy this way of describing the leader. It may be because I have a 'mans personality', according to myers-brigg that is, I am not sure. I believe that man can be gentle and nurturing and woman can be strong and powerful. Since I read it with the archetypal translation, it doesn't matter to me, I could however take into consideration the people reading it and how they might percieve it!

        Thank you Andrea for bringing my attention to this!
  • Sep 3 2011: I totally agree with Andrea's point. And I think Derek's getting something here.

    I can give you some example about what leaders have that others don't in the first place, the courage to be 'alone nuts', the innovation, the ability to influence people etc ect... we call all these 'leadership', no? But leadership might just be a plausible term! If you think leaders as normal person, just like you and me, but they simply make the first move a little bit early, you might realize that maybe leaders are truly 'alone nuts' with many followers! (or sometime, without follower) So, as a whole, we kind of overestimate leadership, it's true to me.

    And I would like to give you this, if you watch the 2 examples in the video below at 7:20, you might agree with my opinion on follower later.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_researches_happiness.html

    I mean being a follower is like the second situation when, leader takes the main credit and follower gets the minor part. But what's difference even if there are no leader but thousands of followers who share the credit? Is that more fair? They are probably same, because every single follower might still has little credit. In reality, thousands of followers might only result in extremely low efficiency.(evidence see China's culture revolution, when nobody dare to lead, little work actually get done) Our special feelings (and rumors) about leader is a result of evolution (ie. we all want to get leader's credit free of charge while we are all afraid to be 'the alone nut').

    Leadership is our nature feature to efficiently start a group-movement. But the exactly same thing may focus one's attention to a tiny truth of the whole picture, who's fair is envying, value is snob. Some wisdom are needed to address this conflict.
  • thumb
    Sep 3 2011: "And I would like to thank all the people that helped out, for which this endeavor would not have been possible." - Many leaders
  • thumb
    Sep 3 2011: When the term LEADER is used , it implies s/he will come up with ideas and has the ability to influence others to become her/his follower by understanding, supporting idea LEADER came up. In the process of executing ideas again followers need direction from leader time to time.

    Let's go by evidence, what Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Mandela did? Were not there enough people around with similar kind of thoughts? Definitely there were but not all had the vision of those leaders had , not all other had the similar influencing power as those leaders had.

    What's going on in Middle East with uprise of people in recent time. A lack of visionary leadership is clear there. So even being an optimist I am not sure where the dream of people will end..........
    Taking my country example , I see how peoples dreams getting shattered every moment due to the absence of a LEADER.

    So my vote goes for LEADER.
    • Sep 3 2011: Some of what you're saying, if I get this right, is that different people have varying ideas which can separate unless held together by a leader. But does the diversity of ideas improve the movement?

      You also mentioned that a movement can die without a leader. Are you referring to the face of a movement, a person that can easily be seen, or can the followers be leaders themselves?
      • thumb
        Sep 4 2011: Hi Michael thanks for thoughts.
        Definitely diversity of ideas improve the movement, that's all those leaders has their own inner circle of close follower some of them also have the leadership capability. But for the success of movement it needs an unity of direction, so instead of multiple people giving directions , direction comes from the person who is the highest level of acceptability among followers and have the highest influencing power.

        If we look back history , plenty of example are there how after the demise of main leader due to the lack of clear succession plan of next leader , movements, revolutions, philosophies got subv divided , sects with in any religion is an clear example. Those sects or sub group came up after the death of the main leader and they started fighting with each other instead establishing or advancing the movement , revolution or thoughts to the next level.

        Not all but defintely some followers have the capability to be the next leader and real leaders tries to support those followers to become the next leader.

        During emergeny situation leaders need to be very much directive even instead of seeking diversity of idea. So it's situational may be in day to day business , but during a movement of revolution when participatory form may not work.

        Well these are just my thoughts......
  • thumb
    Sep 3 2011: It kind of varies, right? The leader is important because they are the innovators and without a starting point there can be no follow up. The follower is important because they keep the leader grounded, with the support of the follower the leader can easily obtain his/her goal and share the experience.
    Of-course then there are those who treat the followers as servants, and the leaders are the kings, in which case the servant never gets recognized and the king takes all the credit. But even this differs from person to person, a big heart will have more room to share the goods then a stiff one.
    • Sep 3 2011: Yes, I agree. They are both vital. Who do you think deserves the credit?
      • thumb
        Sep 3 2011: Micheal,

        I think assigning or seeking credit is missing the value of both. All deserve credit, but if credit is the goal, the endeavor is inherently superficial.

        The risk of assigning either sole credit is that it undermines the myriad and dynamic contributions of all involved. The best leaders are good because a big part of what they do is coax followers to see themselves as leaders who spread the idea in different vernaculars, sectors and environments. If followers are assigned credit as followers, its far harder for them to break out of following to lead. If leaders see themselves only as leaders, they'll learn far less from so-called followers whose iterations and interpretations of the leaders original ideas are often powerful agents for growth, evolution and perpetuation of originating ideas.

        So either title and any attempts to assign value is limited if it is seen as static, linear or stereotypical. In truth, I think followers struggle most with this. If they choose not to see themselves as leaders in some dimension of what they follow, what they follow will struggle to thrive.

        The challenge for all is to look for, nurture and develop those passions and skills that each uniquely possess. The co-reflective effect can be powerful for both. This often requires the leader to, well, take the lead in recognizing and engaging followers as co-leaders. But, it also requires followers to seeing themselves as co-leaders, which can take time and some discomfort to venture out of the safeness of blending into the crowds.

        Andrea
        • Sep 3 2011: Wow. Very well said and insightful. I've always thought there is a difference between a manager and a leader. While a manager might be in charge of a movement or a team, a leader can be anyone.
      • thumb
        Sep 3 2011: Leader. He m o v e s the crowd. What a responsibility.
  • Sep 2 2011: it's at the very least a percentage base formula, what use is a leader with few followers?
    • Sep 2 2011: True, do you think that is dependent on whether or not the leader can draw large crowds? Or does it have to do with something else entirely?
      • Sep 3 2011: well IMO a *good* leader by definition can draw crowds, keeping the crowd I think depends equally on the adversary though.