Are you a leader or a follower?
Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, we’re called on to be one or the other. And while there’s nothing wrong with being a follower, there’s something very wrong with being a mindless disciple, who refuses to exercise independent thought or judgement.
Assuming leadership over our lives is vital to leading a healthy and fulfilling existence. Unless we tap into and use our natural leadership instincts, things can go horribly wrong.
Consider the case of Shin In Geun, the first political prisoner born in North Korean ‘Labour Camp 14′ who managed to escape and flee the country. Camp 14 was considered a “complete control district,” where “irredeemables” were sent and worked to death. Shin’s parents, political prisoners at the camp, were never allowed to develop a normal parent-child relationship with him. Shin considered the prison guards his “parents.”
As part of his childhood indoctrination, Shin was taught that he was a prisoner because of his parents’ “sins.” However, he also learned that he could redeem himself by obeying the guards and informing on his parents. He obeyed camp rules unswervingly; did whatever it took to appease the guards; and never developed his own moral compass. Shin was under the “complete control” of the authorities; he was the quintessential follower.
At age 13, Shin overheard a conversation between his mother and brother, where they were planning to escape from the camp. At the time, the words of the first camp rule, deeply engrained in his psyche, rang in his ears: “Any witness to an attempted escape who fails to report it will be shot immediately.”
So Shin reported his mother and brother to the prison guards. In return, he asked for more food; and to be named grade leader at school. The day his family members were executed, he watched in his father’s presence. He felt no remorse and thought they deserved to die.
At age 23, Shin himself escaped from the camp. Today, he lives in Southern California and is still coming to terms with what he did. So how did things get so terribly twisted?
When we learn to follow leaders, or authority figures, blindly, the consequences can be devastating and catastrophic. Just because someone is branded your leader, doesn’t mean they’re always right, or that they have your best interests at heart.
Where you’re a follower, consider the kind of person you are following. Establish their bona fides; and whether they have the moral authority or capacity to lead. Do they deserve your trust? Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate your decision periodically, in light not just of what they say, but what they actually do.
Don’t become anybody’s spineless stooge. Like Shin, following blindly can make you complicit in the most heinous crimes and acts of betrayal. We were created for so much more than that.
We’re all intended to leave an indelible, positive mark in the world, but we can’t do that if we resolutely refuse to shine; or cede our power to others we deem more powerful. The people we regard as omnipotent are only powerful because we regard them as so; and if we revered ourselves in the same way, we’d reclaim ultimate power and control over our lives.
Some of us are actually scared of our own power. We’ve been in mental shackles for so long that it’s difficult to imagine being free. Do you know the story of the elephant that was tied to a small pole with a rope, but never escaped?
When the elephant was very young, it was tied to the pole and tried to escape, but the rope and pole were too strong. After a few failed attempts, the elephant eventually gave up trying. Later, when the elephant was much bigger and could easily escape, it still believed that it couldn’t, and so it stood in the same place. It was a prisoner of its own limiting beliefs.
Who’s got you tied to the end of their rope; and have you given up on your own escape? Some of us are living in our own, private North Korean labour camps. We’ve substituted our sense of right and wrong with that of “authority figures.” We do as we’re told in exchange “more food” and being made “grade leader.” We’re limited and crippled by our own beliefs; settling for crumbs instead of pursuing a magnificent destiny.
But being a supportive follower does not mean giving up independent thought. While loyalty can be a virtue, never be loyal to people who are only loyal to themselves.
We all remember the story of US politician, John Edwards, and his aide, Andrew Young. Young, by all accounts an incorrigible sycophant, did everything for Edwards, from buying his groceries to claiming he fathered a child with Edwards’ mistress, Rielle Hunter. All this in a bid to stave off Edwards’ inevitable political disgrace; and the end of his formerly illustrious career.
Today, Edwards is in court on several count of corruption. Young has written a tell-all book about him entitled, ‘The Politician.’ What’s the moral of this story?
No man is infallible! If you want to be a follower, follow God. Other than that, be your own leader and follow your own movement. No matter who you formally report to, assume leadership over your own life. If you feel incapable of leading, realise it’s only because you’ve been following for too long.
Practice being a leader, starting with small things, like not consulting everyone about every decision in your life. When faced with a decision, ask yourself; ‘what feels good to me?’ Follow your bliss, because it will never lead you astray; and soon, you’ll start to trust your own leadership instincts, and to thrive!
Leadership is a big deal, so don’t give away power over your own life. Jealously guard your independence because at the end of the day, no matter what they say, nobody likes a ‘yes woman.’
Make it a great week!