The Courage to Follow

‘There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.’ commonly attributed to Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin

2017 has been a year where we have seen the power of the follower. Change in society takes the weight of those who follow the lead of a change agent.

The quote above is likely apocryphal and widely used as a mockery of a form of ‘leadership’ that is all to common in modern politics. Politicians poll the populace and then follow their opinions. Their ‘leadership’ lags public opinion and is at the whim of media cycles and perceptions. In many cases this means politicians follows the swings of opinion. More rarely it means that politicians focus their efforts on supporting late movements of social change whose work is well advanced in society.

Modern politics with a focus on the news cycle and the next election seems to be losing the ability to set a vision and influence action towards in. While this form of following is driven by fear and a lack of influence, 2017 saw many braver examples.

Around the world individual change agents started huge movements of social change by speaking up. The moment of courage came when others rushed to support them and share their own stories or passion for change. The impact of the discussions of domestic violence, sexual assault, racism, mental illness, sexuality and gender around the world has been driving by wave after wave of brave sharing and has forced many to consider their role in a system that can have cruel consequences to those it doesn’t currently support.

Derek Siver’s story of the first follower of the lone dancing guy has been so widely shared the message can be lost. Choosing to be the first follower of the mad, embarrassing or difficult change agent is also an act of bravery. Following takes courage too. Every act of following is an individual act of leadership to influence others.

The value of a community around a change agent is to make it easier to follow and to encourage more of these acts of bravery. Change Agents and their early followers take huge risks in their advocacy. Many suffer greatly as they sacrifice more to lead change in society.

In 2017, Lois Kelly, a colleague on Change Agents Worldwide, ran a Courage camp to help people to explore their courage to make change in their lives and their communities. Having read Lois’ book Naked Hearted this year and knowing her work with Rebels at Work I can see her qualification to facilitate others. We all need to invest in giving others the courage to support change.

Following is less dangerous in a community than a network because we are connected with others in shared purposes, values and relationships. When we build rich communities and a strong civil society we create the conditions for more bravery and following. We create the conditions for society to demand more of its leaders and better support those who follow. We must value the courage of the followers too.

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