following

Leadership is a Choice

"Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank. I know many people at the seniormost levels of organizations who are absolutely not leaders. They are authorities, and we do what they say because they have authority over us, but we would not follow them. And I know many people who are at the bottoms of organizationswho have no authority and they are absolutely leaders, and this is because they have chosen to look afterthe person to the left of them, and they have chosen to look after the person to the right of them. This is what a leader is."

~ Simon Sinek, from "Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe," TED Talk, March 2014 


See also:

Sinek, S. (2014). Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don't. New York: Portfolio/Penguin. (Amazon, library)

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Portfolio. (Amazon, library)

People are Obedient

Matt Damon reads from Howard Zinn's speech "The Problem is Civil Obedience" (November 1970) from Voices of a People's History on Vimeo.

Excerpt from "The Problem is Civil Obedience," by Howard Zinn, fromThe Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy:

I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong, that the wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are out of jail, that the wrong people are in power and the wrong people are out of power, that the wealth is distributed in this country and the world in such a way as not simply to require small reform but to require a drastic reallocation of wealth. I start from the supposition that we don't have to say too much about this because all we have to do is think about the state of the world today and realize that things are all upside down.

...

If you don't think, if you just listen to TV and read scholarly things, you actually begin to think that things are not so bad, or that just little things are wrong. But you have to get a little detached, and then come back and look at the world, and you are horrified. So we have to start from that supposition-that things are really topsy-turvy.

And our topic is topsy-turvy: civil disobedience. As soon as you say the topic is civil disobedience, you are saying our problem is civil disobedience. That is not our problem...Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience...We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that the people obeyed Hitler. People obeyed; that was wrong. They should have challenged, and they should have resisted; and if we were only there, we would have showed them. Even in Stalin's Russia we can understand that; people are obedient, all these herdlike people.

...

Law is very important. We are talking about obedience to law-law, this marvelous invention of modern times, which we attribute to Western civilization, and which we talk about proudly. The rule of law, oh, how wonderful, all these courses in Western civilization all over the land. Remember those bad old days when people were exploited by feudalism? Everything was terrible in the Middle Agesbut now we have Western civilization, the rule of law. The rule of law has regularized and maximized the injustice that existed before the rule of law, that is what the rule of law has done. Let us start looking at the rule of law realistically, not with that metaphysical complacency with which we always examined it before.

When in all the nations of the world the rule of law is the darling of the leaders and the plague of the people, we ought to begin to recognize this. We have to transcend these national boundaries in our thinking. Nixon and Brezhnev have much more in common with one another thanwe have with Nixon. J. Edgar Hoover has far more in common with the head of the Soviet secret police than he has with us. It's the international dedication to law and order that binds the leaders of all countries in a comradely bond. That's why we are always surprised when they get togetherthey smile, they shake hands, they smoke cigars, they really like one another no matter what they say. It's like the Republican and Democratic parties, who claim that it's going to make a terrible difference if one or the other wins, yet they are all the same. Basically, it is us against them.

...

What we are trying to do, I assume, is really to get back to the principles and aims and spirit of the Declaration of Independence. This spirit is resistance to illegitimate authority and to forces that deprive people of their life and liberty and right to pursue happiness, and therefore under these conditions, it urges the right to alter or abolish their current form of government-and the stress had been on abolish. But to establish the principles of the Declaration of Independence, we are going to need to go outside the law, to stop obeying the laws that demand killing or that allocate wealth the way it has been done, or that put people in jail for petty technical offenses and keep other people out of jail for enormous crimes. My hope is that this kind of spirit will take place not just in this country but in other countries because they all need it. People in all countries need the spirit of disobedience to the state, which is not a metaphysical thing but a thing of force and wealth. And we need a kind of declaration of interdependence among people in all countries of the world who are striving for the same thing.

Read the whole essay...

We Are Fundamentally Peers

Excerpt from "You Don't Need a King to Empower You," by Brian Robertson, Big Think: In Their Own Words, May 21, 2013: 

"I think a lot of the cries today are for better leaders, better heroic leaders, better parental figures that will lead us better and I think the interesting power shift that this method I use points to is what happens when we stop asking for better heroic leaders and we put in place a system that distributes power, so that we don’t need heroic leaders to save us, rather so that each of us shows up not as an employee subject to the whims of the broader employer and the leader and the boss, but shows up with our own voice and our own power and our own integrity.

If you’re that leader you can show up and say it’s not my job to process your tensions, it’s not my job to heroically step in and save you, I'm going to process my own tensions as best I can and we’re in an environment where we are fundamentally peers even as we take on different roles and those roles have different authorities.  We can still show up as humans together in a way that owns our reality where nobody is a victim. It takes a power structure to do it in the same way that we shift from our monarchies and feudal empires where there is a clear top-down component into our modern democracies where you don’t need an empowering king."

Read more...

See also: Holacracy

First Follower: The Spark that Lights the Fire

"A leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what he's doing is so simple, it's almost instructional. This is key. You must be easy to follow!

Now comes the first follower with a crucial role: he publicly shows everyone how to follow. Notice the leader embraces him as an equal, so it's not about the leader anymore - it's about them, plural. Notice he's calling to his friends to join in. It takes guts to be a first follower! You stand out and brave ridicule, yourself.

Being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire."

~ Derek Sivers, from Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy

Following Everybody Else

"There can be an intense egoism in following everybody else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular -- and too lazy to think of anything better. Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success and they are in such a haste to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them they argue that their very haste is a species of integrity."

~ Thomas Merton, from New Seeds of Contemplation

A Skill You'll Actually Get To Use

Excerpt from What Now? by Ann Patchett from an essay based on the commencement address she gave at Sarah Lawrence in May 2006:

what_now In a world that is flooded with children's leadership camps and grown-up leadership seminars and bestselling books on leadership, I count myself as fortunate to have been taught a thing or two about following. Like leading, it is a skill, and unlike leading, it's one that you'll actually get to use on a daily basis. It is senseless to think that at every moment of our lives we should all be the team captain, the class president, the general, the CEO, and yet so often this is what we're being prepared for.

No matter how many great ideas you might have about salad preparation or the reorganization of time cards, waitressing is not a leadership position. You're busy and so you ask somebody to bring the water to table four. Someone else is busy and so you clear the dirty plates from table twelve. You learn to be helpful and you learn to ask for help.

It turns out that most positions in life, even the big ones, aren't really so much about leadership. Being successful, and certainly being happy, comes from honing your skills in working with other people. For the most part we travel in groups—you're ahead of somebody for a while, then somebody's ahead of you, a lot of people are beside you all the way. It's what the nuns had always taught us: sing together, eat together, pray together.