Blog Poems

Why Be Pressured to “Lead” When You Can “Follow”?

I came across this supposedly cute postcard the other day; it is one of those motivational postcards meant to inspire and provoke thoughts, and this one indeed achieved the aim of provoking my thoughts. The card reads “Why follow when you can lead”. 

Once I picked it up, the first question that came to my mind was “But what is wrong with following?” I know my answer, and it is “absolutely nothing”!

Well-meaning as the message on that card sounds, I believe it is one of the many things that are wrong with our world today. Because class relations rooted in capitalist tendencies have so brutally dealt with our humane minds, we view everything from a vertical and hierarchical standpoint. “Leading” suddenly feels superior to “following”. 

Following can be just as noble and important as leading. In a world where everyone wants to lead, who follows? And yes, I get the argument about “leadership mindset” “being a leader in any little space you find yourself” and yada yada yada… but let us not pretend that that is what this is. Otherwise, the card would have read “cultivate a leadership mindset” or something of the sort.

This reminds me of a few stories in history but I’ll take the biblical Moses.

According to the stories, the man Moses was given a mandate. But to execute that assignment successfully, he needed people — women, men, young and old alike. Imagine that those people all decided that they wanted to lead too and not “follow”; it would have been chaos and the assignment would have recorded a lower chance of success. More so, it might have turned into chaos. A specific instance was in fact narrated of when he had to keep his hands lifted in the air as an act that determined whether their soldier won or lost a battle. What happened next, according to the narration, is instructive: “But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun” (New King James). You will find a version of “Moses” in every aspect of history, religion, space, and facets of life. In thesame vein, there would be the need for an “Aaron” and a “Hur” to steady those hands for there to be positive outcomes.

Being an ardent student of Yoruba history (Nigerian tribe), I have read about the lives and times of giants- heroes and sheros of our great heritage. I recall the history of conquests: Aare Onakankanfo, Moremi Ajasoro, and a few recent socio-political leaders in contemporary African histories, as exist in several other cultures and histories in different variations. Take a moment to think about the ones you know!

None of those people existed without the support of loyal and dedicated followers, from armour bearers to people who fed and nurtured them, those who reminded them of planned events. Today, those would be the Schedulers, Personal Assistants, Executive secretaries, and Deputies — the people behind the scenes in our professional spaces. Without those sometimes, our lives would be a pack of chaos.

I believe that humans have varying capabilities, just as our personalities vary. We are not equipped alike- we should not be. Some have natural inclinations to being supporters on a team or even behind the scenes, while some on the other hand naturally emerge in any space; they don’t have to force it, they just take the lead and chart the course. Those are the ones we often call natural leaders. Imagine the one who finds joy, ease and fulfilment deciding that the natural leader is the important one and then decides to take the lead too. Not only would that person possibly struggle, but there is a high percentage chance that they would end up unhappy and grouchy while “taking the lead”. Our definition of leadership and followership is what needs to change.

The point of this writing is to challenge you to reevaluate the so-called inspirations you come across sometimes so that you are not put under undue pressure to ride against the tide of your natural endowments; that is why you have a mind. Question, analyse, explore and only swallow with due diligence and conviction.

Whoever wrote the letters on this postcard most likely meant no harm, but it has been published anyway. My concern is the one who would come across it- the consumer. So to the consumer, I challenge you to allow your natural gift and inclinations to take the lead. Sharpen your skill and stay in the place of your calling- or purpose- or whatever.

Don’t be pressured to “lead” when you should indeed “follow”. What counts is your dedication and faithfulness to whatever is committed to you.

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