We remain a tiny minority. We – those of us in the leadership industry who believe that followership is every bit as important as leadership and that, in fact, leadership cannot be understood apart from followership, or leaders from followers – remain at the margin of the field. People want to learn how to lead, not how to follow. Therefore, by and large those of us in the leadership industry give them what they want – we sell what our customers are willing to buy.
But, in the real world, it is followers not leaders who sometimes – not always, but sometimes – frame the discussion. It goes nearly without saying that Saturday’s March for our Lives event in Washington DC, and those hundreds of satellite events scheduled to take place simultaneously, all of them essentially student-led efforts to end gun violence, are cases in point.
The words “follower” and “followership” are still burdened by the mistaken conception that followers are sheep and that followership is far less important than leadership. But to look at the literature on followership – stunningly small as it is – – is to understand that followers are simply others than leaders. They are those, such as high school students, who are without power, without authority, and without influence.
Obviously, not all followers create change. But sometimes they do. Sometimes the ostensibly powerless have the capacity to tap into changing cultures and, now, new technologies to seize the day. As has happened in this case. As has happened to these followers who, in consequence of their own up close and personal experience with gun violence, changed the conversation.
Does this mean that these students, initially certainly all from Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, have been transformed from followers into leaders? Arguably yes. But to focus on semantics is to miss the point. The point is that these young people, without any obvious resources, were able to do what their putative leaders were not. On issues surrounding gun violence, they have rallied the American people in keeping with nothing less than their own expressed preferences.