Do Leaders Need Followers? Maybe!

So, what does it take to be a leader? Can you count the number of times that question has been asked and answered? While many answers exist, this short TED video by Derek Sivers (@sivers) from 2010, offers compelling evidence of leadership.

Dynamite Entertainment's The Lone Ranger #4 co...

Dynamite Entertainment’s The Lone Ranger #4 cover. Art by John Cassaday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leaders need followers.  Sure, you can be a lone wolf – a la The Lone Ranger. However, The Lone Ranger’s impact was limited because he lacked followers to carry his vision far and wide. Contrast that with the young man in Derek’s TED presentation.

The first guy to dance inspired another, which then inspired another and the flood gates opened wide from there.  Now, one could argue that getting people to dance at an outdoor concert is like shooting fish in a barrel.  But, what compelled them to run over and dance with this guy and his followers? Dancing in place would have allowed them quicker access to their stuff. Obviously, people like to contribute to something bigger than themselves.

I don’t intend to diminish the ability of any one individual to impact the world. Sometimes, the sacrifice of a single individual will inspire a movement.  But, unless someone communicates that sacrifice the purpose may be lost. Inspiring others to act will exponentially impact the world with every new follower. The Lone Ranger’s mission could not be fulfilled with followers (aside from his side-kick Tonto). His vigilante approach demanded that he live outside societal norms.  Therefore, followers may have meant that he was less capable of fulfilling his mission.

The point I’m trying to make is that you need to determine the type of leader you want to become.  Do you have a single mission that will be accomplished within your lifetime? Or, will you start something bigger by attracting followers to carry on your vision.

I thought my single mission was to simply raise my children to be good productive citizens. While that satisfies the basic needs, my mission is more complicated than that. I know I cannot guarantee any specific outcomes, but I feel compelled to continue the progress of past generations.  Perhaps, I can inspire my kids to leadership by emulating those traits and helping them find their passion and their followers.

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Leadership – The Big Lie

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, I don’t think that the “idea” of leadership is a lie.  However, what passes for leadership is a lie.  As a matter of fact, I think many organizations or institutions don’t truly want leaders in their organization.  They want followers and doers.

Gifted leaders possess vision, tenacity, humility, honesty and flexibility.  Yes, historical examples of “leaders” that lacked these traits exist, but they merely support my thesis above.  Often, these “leaders” were in title only or brought out the worst in their followers.  Great historical leaders, while flawed, were far and few in between.  Historical leaders include George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, and Mohandas Gandhi.  These people and their contributions will endure through the ages.

Other names will too, but they are far more complicated and not beloved by all.  For example, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolph Hitler, J Edgar Hoover, George Custer, …..  While they all had vision, tenacity and flexibility they lacked honesty and humility.  They often boldly charged into battle, but often for personal glory missing the greater opportunity because of concern for their own legacy.

Too many contemporary “leaders” seek to build their legacy versus building lasting institutions.  They seek to secure their spot in recorded history, but lack the humility and honesty to contribute to enduring institutions.  Few will rise to the historical success of Alexander the Great.  There just isn’t enough of the known world left to conquer.  However, it is totally within our grasp to contribute to something greater than ourselves.  True leadership does not always involve creating lasting institutions, monuments or even a side note in the historical record.  Striving to exemplify leadership traits to your children and those that admire you may be the lasting legacy you seek.  Legacies might be akin to karma.  You may not always have the satisfaction of witnessing karma in action, but be assured that like karma, your legacy will live on in the people you impact and engage along the way.

Strive to emulate the leadership traits of those that did not seek immortality, but instead sought out the opportunities to contribute to institutions greater than themselves.

 

 

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The Purpose of Santa

January 3, 1863 cover of Harper's Weekly, one ...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been thinking about this Santa subject a lot.  I wrote this about the Psychology Today post (The Case for Keeping Santa) and also commented on this post by  Ted Torreson’s (@ted_torreson) via his blog Faith in Motion.  Bottom-line, like most issues, there are shades of interpretation.

One of the greatest gifts (and burdens) from our Creator is free will.  A burden because the choice is left to each of us whether to follow the teachings of Jesus or not.  It seems the purpose for this gift may have been to ensure that humans came to God out of choice.  Choosing freely makes the choice more genuine.  Have you ever felt pressured to say something nice when someone is fishing for compliments?  “Don’t I look great in this outfit?”

I believe this also encourages us to think (a lot) about everything from what apple color is best for maximum taste satisfaction to the purpose for human existence.  Over the last 200,000 years we learned, shared and collaborated with humans across the globe, which brings us to this unique place in time.  While we are no smarter than the first humans, we are more knowledgeable.  In order for us to go beyond survival we learned to thrive by finding ways to simplify our needs so we can concentrate on higher function desires, which led us from tribes to civilizations.

The basis for our western society stem from some shared beliefs.  Whether Believer or not, Judeo-Christian moral and spiritual beliefs form the basis of our society, just as do Roman and English Common Laws.  But, that is written history.  Before humans began to write and before they painted on rocks, they shared around camp fires.  We tell stories about historical and fictional people to help us make sense of the world, as well as to pass on critical information to our descendants.  From myths, to parables to oral and written histories; humans tell stories through word or image that they hope will be the glue that binds a community together.

The Christmas stories we love to hear, tell, watch and sing ensure that our progeny cherish our values.  Humans seek out ever more creative stories to spark curiosity about the morals being conveyed.  Did you ever have an uncle that told the same story every Thanksgiving?  Did you start tuning out after awhile or begin to mock him?  However, if that uncle was instead telling new stories each year that while different involved the same characters you might be more prone to listen…especially, if he had some oratory skill.   This creative license allows humans to continue refining our stories while sharing the same values each time.

I think the stories about Santa Claus fulfill that same purpose.  While the story shouldn’t be a substitute for the Christmas story of an immaculate birth, it can nevertheless provide a vehicle to share important facets of the Good News.  The life of Jesus provides a model life for Christians to follow.  While no one is praying at the altar of Santa (well, besides Macy’s), the story gives us a shared cultural reference to promote giving, joy, family and faith.  The farther we travel down the evolutionary road the farther from fact stories becomes until they are almost all fictional.  However, hopefully we retain the morals and values that we cherished.

Humans evolved into great story tellers.  Think about those Lascaux cave paintings in France compared to National Geographic TV.  Same fascination with wildlife, but richer image.  I think while the Santa stories moved away from the historical basis the best parts remained.  Merry Christmas!

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Kick Santa To The Curb?

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...

Image via Wikipedia

I just read The Case for Keeping Santa by Lynne Griffin (@Lynne_Griffin).  She discusses the positive values promoted by the stories surrounding Santa Claus.  For example:

Joy

Create some joyful childhood memories.

Generosity

“Santa’s biggest legacy is his desire to give without receiving.”

Wonder

“How does he get around the world in one night? Do reindeer really fly? Learning to question and make sense of the unbelievable is an important skill for a child. Just thinking about this Christmas tale encourages critical thinking and reasoning skills. Join your child on the quest to understand.”

Faith

“Santa is your child’s first experience believing in something he cannot see. Believing in Santa is a beginning step toward teaching your child about faith. Spirituality is based on learning to trust in a higher power, in God.”

Hope

This lesson keeps us all going.  Utilizing this story bolsters a child’s desire for better days to come.  Of course, as Lynne points out, it can be equally dangerous if not tempered.

She also gives some tips for answering the inevitable questions that will come as children mature.  “Don’t lie just to keep the myth alive.”

I recently participated in a discussion with others about what and when to tell a child about Santa and the Christian position on Christmas.  Ted Torreson authored the post Why I Won’t Be Teaching My Children About Santa Claus.  As a pastor, he makes the case that perhaps we do our children a disservice by not telling them about the reason for the season and the real story of St. Nicolas.

As parents, we want to teach our kids about faith, love and life.  But, we also want them to maintain vivid imaginations and grow up with the values we cherish.  The many positive characteristics of Santa seem worth perpetuating.  Especially, that of the cheerful giver!

7 Surprising Reasons The West Won

Niall Ferguson lists 6 reasons western societies with 19% of global population controlled 75% of the world’s resources.  I think he missed one.

  1. Competition – Many corporations, similar to the City of London Corporation in the 12th Century, along other governments were competing with one another.  Think about the number of western European languages spoken around the world today due to colonization.
  2. The Scientific Revolution – while we all know gun powder came to Europe from China, it was the Europeans that continued to experiment with it and mash together multiple scientific disciplines in order to improve it.  Niall’s example is a German using Newtonian physics to improve the accuracy of bombs.
  3. Property Rights – I think this is probably one of the most fundamental rights in American history that contributed to stability and growth of the middle class.  Even the poorest could own property which might remain for generations.  Though, many injustices occurred over property disputes, those legal protections help the poorest prevail against the richest.
  4. Modern Medicine – ensuring people lived longer, healthier, and productive lives.  Imagine the additional productivity of one person by nearly doubling their life expectancy.  Just the simple act of surgeons washing their hands before getting elbow deep into another person’s abdomen probably saved a few million lives.
  5. The Consumer Society – Henry Ford paid much higher wages than other manufacturers at the time.  He wanted Ford employees to afford Model Ts which in turn kept demand high for his product.  For all the benefits of consumerism, there lurk many dangers as 2008 proved.  The rising middle class in China and India creates demand for high-end western luxuries, but desires in the west for those goods at ever cheaper prices led to the decline of manufacturing in the west.
  6. Work Ethic – Western society’s work ethic turned virgin soil into vast acres of corn, cotton, tobacco and grazing land.  Now the Native Americans that provided the seeds for tobacco and corn to the newcomers were equally (if not more) successful than Europeans at growing these crops.  The difference was profit versus subsistence.  It was the European demand for tobacco that encouraged a strong work ethic.  Niall uses the examples of North and South Korea along with East and West Germany.  The communist state produces markedly less quantity and quality than do non-communist states.
  7. Why? – I suppose you could lump this into the scientific revolution above, but really this is the ability to question authority, as well as, the desire to understand the reason an apple feels compelled to hurl itself toward earth.  The inalienable rights of mankind to desire freedom and reject tyranny led to asking why.  I think some of the basic tenets of Christianity contributed to this enlightened thought.  Even though Catholicism suppressed western society for centuries, once peasants demanded the right to read and interpret the bible for themselves, The Church’s strangle hold loosened forever.

Niall fears (as do I) that the rest of the world will quickly catch up and overtake western society, but it is not too late.  While governments are slow to react and bogged down in squabbles over Keynesian economics, we must act now to prepare our kids for challenges of the 21st century.  Mark Twain said, he never let his education get in the way of his learning.  Join me in teaching our children to be creative problem solvers that bravely seek answers to WHY.