When No One Else Follows
There's a quote I have on the whiteboard attached to the front of my desk. I mean, there are a lot of quotes and thoughts there, most that have lived there for years, and get rearranged from time to time. I'd like to share one today, with my thoughts as addendum.
Travis Bradbury said to "lead when no one else follows." This is easy to say and hard to do, because you have to know yourself very thoroughly to do so. You have to know what you stand for. You have to understand that if everyone is on the bandwagon, and you aren't sure that's the right direction, sometimes you have to refrain from joining them.
In fact, sometimes you're on the bandwagon and realize you have to jump off, even if the driver won't stop for your request.
But as instructive as this quote is, it also doesn't explicitly express something I strongly believe in, and something that I intuit every time I read it.
Often, in order to truly lead when no one else is following means not only leading alone, but leading when no one is watching. For me, it means working on my novel series when I'm not accountable to anyone else. It means choosing with others in mind when they aren't there. It means keeping the watch while everyone else sleeps.
Leading can feel like a full time job. Maybe, when you're doing it right, it is.
There are folks who feel that not everyone is a leader. There are professors who teach that everyone is. As a student of leadership, I keep mulling over who is right. And, because I'm a student of nuance, maybe neither camp is.
Maybe the leaders are the ones who believe and/or see themselves as such. If you believe it, then you are. If you don't, but others see you as such, then it is also true. Some people get to choose to be leaders; others don't. Circumstance can thrust us into situations that force us to rise to the occasion. Sometimes one decision can change a life: yours or someone else's.
I do believe every person has the potential to be a leader. But maybe we should refrain from assuming everyone is by default. That's like giving a participation ribbon, isn't it? You're alive and so you're a leader. That's an oversimplification and a degradation of the effort of actual actions and sacrifices of leaders. So leaders, both big and small, general and niche, don't need such a blanket acknowledgment that diminishes their individual contributions to the world.