8.10. Following Is More Important Than Leading

For every leader, we need thousands of front-line folks, willing to chip in and do their little part.

In an individualistic society like ours, we’re all trained to want to be leaders.

We don’t like being told what to do. We don’t like having people outrank us.

To feel good about ourselves, to have a successful, high-paying job, to be above-average in our income, status, and lifestyle…we have to develop leadership skills.

There’s an entire self-help industry devoted to making people into “leaders.”

And if you want to be a leader in your job or your community, that’s great. Go for it.

But our individualistic “leadership” fetish does more harm than good to advancing social justice.

If you have a lot of money, power, or other resources, then you don’t need a lot of people on your side. You can get things done using your advantage in resources.

But for the masses of ordinary people, like you and me, if we want to make a difference, we don’t have that luxury.

We have to get a bunch of people on our side. We have to be numerous and coordinated. We have to accumulate millions—if not billions—of supporters, to overcome the advantage in resources that our elites and institutions have.

And that means what we lack most isn’t leadership. It’s a willingness to follow the leaders.

Because for every genuine, bona-fide leader in a social movement…we need hundreds—or thousands—of front-line folks, willing to chip in and do their little part to advance the cause.

But we usually fail to accumulate those numbers—because people are too proud and independent-minded to simply be a small part of the solution.

We’re skeptical. We’re critical. We start to feel like we could do a better job than the existing leaders. And so eventually, we stop contributing, or go form our own movement, where we can be the leader.

This is a big, big problem.

Yes, some of the burden belongs to the leaders, to do a good job of inspiring their followers. And yes, sometimes our movements and institutions really are corrupt and incompetent, and put the wrong people in charge.

But if we’re all going to be backseat drivers, hypercritically judging everyone who happens to outrank us, flattering ourselves by imagining we could do a better job…it’s going to be impossible for even the best leaders to corral and coordinate the large numbers of people we need.

Why is it such a bad thing to just play a bit part?

Why is it such a bad thing to simply be a wholehearted supporter and ally—instead of a jealous, wannabe leader?

It doesn’t matter what you think or feel or believe. It doesn’t matter how smart or charismatic you are. And it doesn’t matter what quibbles you may have with the existing leaders and organizations out there doing good.

The fact is: if we don’t have the numbers and the coordination, we can’t accomplish any of the good you want to see in the world.

And that means there’s a greater than 99 percent chance that you and I are going to have to be content with just being part of the loyal rank-and-file, if we want to see progress in our lifetime.

You may not like that conclusion—but you can’t dispute it.


This is the 134th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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