If you have any different insights on these topics, please share them. Maybe some day some of these ideas will make it to the big leagues and become pro-verbs. I also have a blog for technical computery stuff - zachstechnotes.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

cynicism and followership [read "leadership" first]

A cynic protects himself, but in doing so he stifles progress;
The best followers passionately promote a leader's plan.

[continued from "leadership"]

The thing that makes leadership so difficult for good people is that their followers are cynical and selfish. Negatively minded people (I am among the worst) protect themselves by criticizing leaders and institutions. That way, when the leader or institution fails (and nearly all do eventually), they can lift themselves up by saying "I was right all along." One of my best friend's parents once told me "being cynical is easy" and that drastically changed the way I think about the role of a follower. Our culture makes a hero out of the cynic, the one who dismisses authority and defames leaders and institutions; the office worker who makes fun of his boss and disregards all of the rules.

But cynics are not heroes. It does not take any bravery to tear down a leader or an institution or a tradition. The brave ones are the good followers who promote the good ideas of their leaders. When the leader presents a good plan, they passionately say "Yes! That's a good idea!" There is nothing more encouraging to a leader than to hear that one of their followers thinks that they did a good job. And when the leader makes a mistake, the great followers do not ridicule him personally for it. They will say that it was a bad decision, but recognize that it took courage to follow through with that decision.

What if, instead of being cynical, people made a conscious directed effort to support the good things about our leaders? How much more could we collectively accomplish if we all supported the leaders in our everyday lives - our teachers, bosses, parents, and others? If, instead of complaining, we followed the rules that they have laid out to help us in respect, wouldn't we be better off as a group?

One specific thing related to this that really bothers me is when people claim that our leaders are bad people. For example, I have heard many people say that President Bush or President Obama is an evil person (or something close to that). I of course think that they both have made some bad decisions, but to those people I say "Do you really think that either of those men were not doing what they thought was best for the country? You can argue that their policies are wrong, but you should still respect the courage that they have had to lead." Instead of being ceaselessly critical of our leaders and institutions, we should work with them and passionately support their good decisions regardless of political boundaries. It benefits everyone when we follow well.

I think that this is one of the main things that sets Texas A&M apart from other schools. Aggies are good followers. There is very little cynicism here. Even when our football team is really bad, we still come out for the games and promote the school. Some say that we follow things blindly (and I agree that it is bad to err in that direction), but by following something well, we can accomplish extraordinary things.

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