Of Followers and Leaders

The definitions of words intrigue me. Words can have multiple meanings. Think of one quick (clean) example, the word coast. It can mean someplace we hope the oil doesn't ruin or it can mean to neither accelerate or brake (as opposed to break).

I've spoken before about character-based leadership as leading from who you are rather than your position.  The word leader gets a second, clarifying meaning.  I don't mean to confuse, but to clarify, although many people have tried to convince me otherwise.  When your followers follow you with energy because they believe you're on their side, you're being a character based leader.  When they do it because you're the boss, well, let's call that positional leadership (and keep this clean).

The double meaning of the word leader creates a question: are there two meanings for follower?  The reason why I ask is related to intention.  Many wonderful people are training leaders.  Many definitions of leader or leadership suggest the presence of followers.  So what happens when we've taught everyone to lead?  Do we need to grow more followers?  Will our supply of people to convert into leaders eventually run dry?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I submit few want to be a follower, although we all serve in that capacity at some time.  I suggest there might be a second meaning for the word follower.  Seth Godin wrote a leadership book titled Linchpin.  A linchpin is a necessary person, but not necessarily the one in charge.  Their character and their personal commitments make them something more than one who "just does what they're told."  Godin uses the term "linchpin."

So do you want to be a follower when you grow up?  What word would you use?

Photo by bschmove on Flickr

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