The cult of celebrity has been responsible for the rise in power of many people who were unsuited to, or abused, their leadership roles. Often the word used to describe these leaders is “charismatic”, as if that one trait alone were enough to qualify the candidate for the position. Sociologist Max Weber pointed out that “charisma” is a quality given to leaders by their followers, rather than it being something intrinsic.
Perhaps now more than ever, courageous followers have a job to do in standing up to our leaders. Ideally, we would have compassionate people leading us but every leader needs courageous followers to point out their blind spots. We have a responsibility to be critical thinkers, to actively challenge our leaders and to contribute positive energy and constructive alternatives. We can be courageous followers even from behind our keyboards and screens.
It is a delicate balance as a follower to serve and support the leader while not competing for the lead role. There is no greater responsibility than speaking truth to power. Great followership can be more challenging than leadership – the rewards are less, the role can be more dangerous and must be exercised with incredible tact and finesse.
Rather than blindly endorsing and being subservient to toxic leaders, we are called to seek out and support constructive, compassionate leaders. Edith Wharton wrote ‘There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.’ When considering the candidates who put their names forward for positions on your board or as leaders of our country, I encourage you to first identify and support the worthy servant-leaders and then, post-election, continue your important work by being a courageous mirror and reflecting the light.