Two of the “Ten Greatest Leaders” are … Followers

Fortune magazine just announced its 2018 list of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.” The top ten are:

  1. The Students (Marjory Stoneman Douglas and other schools)
  2. Bill and Melinda Gates (Cofounders, Gates Foundation)
  3. The #MeToo Movement
  4. Moon Jae-in (President, South Korea)
  5. Kenneth Frazier (CEO, Merck)
  6. Scott Gottlieb (FDA Commissioner)
  7. Margarethe Vestager (Commissioner for Competition, European Union)
  8. Larry Fink (CEO, BlackRock)
  9. General Joseph Dunford (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff)
  10. Liu He (Vice Premier, China)

What on this roster stands out? One could argue the dearth of people of color. One could argue the dearth of women. One could argue the dearth of non-Americans. Or, one could argue, as I do, the inclusion of groups. Groups who a few months ago had zero power, zero authority, and zero influence. Groups who morphed overnight from followers into leaders.

“The Students” – who remain mostly nameless – were, until they were not, ordinary kids, typical high schoolers, average followers. But in the equivalent of a New York minute they became leaders – leaders motivated by a mission created by a calamity.

The #MeToo Movement is similar. No single individual is identifiable as its leader. Rather it is a collective whose anger met the moment. Whose anger got channeled into social media. Whose anger found resonance among millions of others who had experienced sexual harassment but who felt too weak, too vulnerable, too disenfranchised to do anything about it.

The words “leader” and “follower” are fungible – though the moment when a follower becomes a leader, and a leader a follower, can be difficult to detect. Still, usually we know it when we see it. When those who previously were powerless join to vent their outrage clearly and consistently – and strategically – they can become powerful. Not always, but sometimes.


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