Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Center for Followership Studies

It seems as though there are a bajillion centers for leadership studies, and just as many books and seminars and programs to develop "leaders."

Blah. Jesus marvels at the centurion's faith in Matthew 8. The centurion recognized Jesus' authority not only because the centurion was a man with authority, but also because the centurion was a man under authority as well. He understood authority because he understood followership as well as leadership.

I remember once being surprisingly moved watching the Prince of Liechtenstein kneel at a mass to receive the sacrament of the altar. Ignoring that he's the prince of a really, really small country, the experience promoted me to frame what I think is a pivotal question that I to ask myself, and ask of others: To whom do you bow the knee? I think this is a particularly important question for American men, in particular, who, outside of the military, are rarely called to submit explicitly to other people.

Given the centurion's lesson -- that he learned authority by first being under authority -- I think that this is a critical question for men who wish to lead. To whom do you (or have you) bowed the knee?

To be sure, all of us bow the knee in one sense or another to our parents. Yet as Tocqueville observed so long ago in Democracy in America, even family life in the U.S. is incredibly democratic in comparison to what exist then in Europe. (And, for the most part, I think that's a good thing.)

But I do think that we do have something of a problem in that American society pushes us to rush past our experience as followers in order to become leaders; we value leadership but not followership.

Indeed, I suspect that in democratic societies the experience of true followership is all the more critical for would-be leaders precisely because it is so less experienced in daily life than it is in more aristocratic societies.

But that would seem, to me, to make the establishment of centers for followership studies all the more important in democratic societies than in aristocratic societies, and yet we aren't interested in followership precisely because our characters are so unreflectively democratic.


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