The Power of Being a Follower

Eleanor Pontikes Leadership is not about heading as many clubs as possible, nor is being a captain, head of a club, or having a role in student government merely a credential to add to a college or work application. But these are the ways I’ve seen Latin’s theme of leadership manifest this year. I’ve heard lots of talk about stepping up and leading by example by student and guest speakers, but I’ve heard little about what being a leader actually entails. As a result, I think a majority of students feel an overwhelming pressure to obtain a title whether it be on a sport’s team, a club, committee student government, or a classroom. Of course, being in a position of leadership with a title like captain can yield responsibility and growth, but when a community classifies leadership with titles and positions, leadership becomes superficial and the role of follower is neglected. This year’s theme of leadership has barely scratched the surface. The good news: the year’s not over yet. Strength to lead and faith to follow. This line from the traditional song “Peace I Ask of Thee, Oh River” is ingrained in the minds of the campers at Teton Valley Ranch Camp, the camp I attended for six years with my sisters and other girls from around the country and a few spots around the world. Through backpacking, pack trips, fly fishing, barn chores, collecting firewood, rodeos and a variety of other outdoor activities, my friends and I practiced leadership and followership—the often forgotten, yet vital complement to leadership. In the mountains and valleys of Wyoming, where volatile weather and cliffs and bears and altitude made the stakes higher and the margin for error smaller, we learned the importance of accomplishing tasks quickly and effectively. We learned that a fire wouldn’t be built if everyone tried to direct one another and no one picked up sticks. We learned that it was easy to follow someone who exuded confidence. We learned that experience and trust build confidence. Of course, living in a tent and not showering for days led to a closeness and bond that made group dynamics different from the hodgepodge of students at Latin, but finding the strength to lead and the faith to follow can be done in a school environment. This is especially true during project week which strips away grades and friend groups, enabling group dynamics to change and evolve to allow people to assume different roles. A group won’t function if followers don’t have faith in their leader and if the leader doesn’t have faith in their own strength. Strength is smiling when it’s raining, sticking up for what you believe in, slowing down the pace for others even though you could go faster, raising your hand when no one else does, and knowing your own worth. Strength can be hard to come by, but the more strength is exemplified in others, the easier it is to find strength in yourself, the more you exemplify strength, the easier it is for others to find strength in themselves. There’s a notion that leadership is innate—you’re either born a leader or not. But leadership can be acquired through observation and diligence, perhaps even from experience as a follower. A leader seeks change and the best in people. A follower makes change possible. Being a follower does not mean settling. Followers carry out a vision. The more leadership is associated with titles, the more stigmatized being a follower is. ]]>