Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Downlow on SLLO: The Importance of the First Follower

So, the universe has been trying to teach me something this week.  And, as is so often the case, it has taken more than just once or twice for the message to sink in…but I think I've got it now. 

It all began earlier this week when, as a personal celebration for surviving another semester of my own academic pursuits, I convinced a friend to go see The Hobbit with me.  For the most part I was just decompressing from the Fall and enjoying the sheer magnitude of the film, but I also, as is so often the case, heard that voice in my brain interject at a few key points in the story with “This would be a great leadership moment”, and “You could weave that into a social justice module for class, etc”.  As I was in relaxation mode, I promptly ignored those voices...but the lesson wasn't over.

Fast forward to Thursday, and I am sent this clip:

Although the message from the TED talker sounded a little bit more like “Transform a Lone Nut into a Leader”, what really stuck out to me was his emphasis on the importance of the first follower.  I began to reflect on how often I talk with my students about the courage and strength it takes to be the first follower, rather than the leader, and I couldn’t come up with much.  That’s just not a conversation we have (or have had before…).  As I prepared to leave for the night, these thoughts continued to swirl around in my brain looking for a place to latch on and mesh into next year’s assignments.

And then, the universe delivered the final blow: My grandparents wanted to go to the movies for Grandparents Night (our Thursday night tradition), and of course…we were going to see The Hobbit.  This time, with actual sleep having been had this week and my brain not still fried from writing a final flurry of papers, I watched the film for the lessons.  And I found a ton!

I won’t go into too many, but the one that stuck out the most that I knew needed to be addressed here was the moment when Bilbo Baggins did his own version of running up and joining the crazy guy dancing in the park.  Bilbo, who spends the first two hours of the movie reminding Gandolf and the dwarves that he’s never been a fighter, watches as the leader of the dwarves rushes away from the group and faces down his nemesis.  But rather than being paralyzed by fear or awe like the others, he braces himself to follow.  When the leader is struck down, Bilbo and Sting charge down the Orcs and, in doing so, bolster the others to fight back as well.

I was struck with the parallels to what I see in my own organizations.  While the dynamics rarely involve Orcs or Dwarves, they do often involve one or two leaders who seem so confident, that many of the other students sit back and watch in awe rather than stepping up to join in.  It’s only after one or two additional students break away from the pack and vocally support the “leader”, that the momentum builds and others fall in line. 

And so, this morning I find myself plotting with more intentionality about where this lesson in followership will fall into Spring’s curriculum.  And reminding myself to stop resisting the teachings of the universe…it always wins in the end.

- Sarah Edwards

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