At the start of the New Year, when anything seems possible I consulted the I Ching. Three coins are used participate in this 5,000 year old method of divination. My question was simply ’2011? ‘. Three coins are thrown six times to determine a hexagram and learn an answer.
My hexagram for 2011 is 7 Collective Force, according to R.L. Wing ‘s translation, it is sometimes translated as The Army. The idea of harnessing collective force is one with appeal, on offer is the opportunity to tap into the “energy of mass support”. It sounds like tapping into a band of united followers of some kind, and certainly evokes thoughts relating to followership.
The text for Collective Force is clear that this is not about leading in that the ‘support from the people around you’ must be gained. Also clear is the need for the confidence of ‘those in authority’, they would be the leaders. Collective Forces seems to call for a third group, much like Seth Godin’s linchpins, a group who are neither management nor labour.
Godin says that “The linchpin is an individual who can walk into chaos and create order, someone who can invent, connect, create, and make things happen. “ That sounds like someone who can tap into a collective force. I can determine a harmony, in the ancient and the current texts, without effort.
I’m advised by the I Ching to be generous and accommodating which is interesting when marshalling a collective and imposing rule might be a more expected approach. Godin suggests dignity, humanity and generosity over the surrender implicit in conformity compliance and obedience. A ‘no sheep’ approach rooted in strong inner conviction is required by both the Tao and the Entrepreneur for the Information Age. I am not sure those two should be linked together quite so closely, and no disrespect is meant by doing so. On the lazy summer days of early January one thought leads to another …
I’m looking forward to 2011.
This is a critical question for me. How do I pick someone to follow? This is especially difficult when you are playing the first follower role.
The first question that I had was: “Do I know and trust this person?”
If the answer is affirmative then this makes it a lot easier. There are a small number of people in the world who could call me up and say: “I intend to walk through the city centre at noon dressed as a banana while yodelling the works of Gilbert O’Sullivan – are you in?” and I wouldn’t hesitate to join them. Even if it all goes horribly wrong, I know that their intentions are good, that their creativity will make it an interesting experience and that, hell, they’re just fun to be with.
And then there are people that I know but do not trust. A distinction is normally made between reliance on someone’s honesty and reliance on their competence. I would rather not follow someone I do not consider to be honest unless I absolutely had to. Where as the competence issue is contextual. I may well trust my sommelier friend when he invites me to try a new wine. I may not trust him when he invites me to go white-water rafting with him.
Finally there are those that I do not know. Here I have several strategies. The first is to simply flip a coin – at least I’ll be right 50% of the time.
Alteratively, I may prefer to go with my intuition. Does this person look like a leader? Do they act in a leaderly way? We probably use this strategy more frequently than we would admit to. It’s not a bad strategy but it is vulnerable to the “halo effect”. The halo effect is where we judge a book by its cover. And the cover may be beautiful but the book may still be rubbish. Or the reverse may be true. A frustrating fact about the halo effect is that even when we are aware of it, we still fall prey to it. Just because someone looks like a leader does not mean they are a leader.
A third strategy might be called “tit for tat”. Tit for tat says that I start with the assumption that people are trustworthy. And then I see if they earn that trust. If they do, then I can place more faith in them. If they do not, then I remove that trust. Trust gradually built – from a small investment to something big. Tit for tat is a remarkably robust strategy for building cooperation. But for tit for tat to work, we cannot fall in love with our would-be leaders. We cannot follow them blindly. We have to make them earn our trust (work it, baby).
Anna Smith has produced the following – see the original in all its glory here and read about the traits and habitat of the leadersheep. Genius!
I love this clip, almost three minutes long and loaded with messages for leaders and it introduces ‘courageous’ followers. It looks like it includes a few sheep but enthusiastic dancing sheep rather than stumbling bleating ones.
The narrator provides ideas rather than answers, maybe because there’s no question.
Lessons from the three minute clip: A leader must be easy to follow, and it is true that followers want to know what is expected of them. A leader needs to embrace followers as equals, it’s not about you (the leader that is). One way to encourage people to do what you want them to do is to treat them well and be worthy of following. It’s the ‘first’ follower transforms a lone nut into a leader by courageously following. That’s a great term ‘courageously following’ and a sea-change from the vocal dissenters who are all too familiar. That point is important because new followers emulate followers not the leader. It’s followers whose example encourages others to join, and follow.
This is a lesson for followers more than leaders. Yes?
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One of the first people I told about this followership centre idea said to me: “Hey your logo should be a sheep”. And I thought: “Yes!!! That’s exactly… wrong”. Because in my mind, being a follower is all about not being a mindless member of the herd. There are too many sheep in the world and that’s not what we’re selling here. We are not out to fleece you.
When I worked in training and corporate communications, there was a regular request I would get from managers. Often it would be phrased in a sophisticated way: “How do we deal with resistance to change?” or “How can we ensure alignment with our key goals?” And, after all, who wants to be resistant? Who doesn’t want to be aligned?
Sometimes this question would be phrased more directly. And to be honest, I appreciated the directness: “How do I make people do what I want them to do?” Here we have it. What is the secret to getting people to obey you?
If you stop to think about it, this is quite a deep, dark question. Because if you follow those pesky existentialists, the core of being human is our ability to choose our own lives. Never absolutely and rarely independently but some element of choice is part of being human. So above question is actually: “How can I dehumanise people?”
That’s actually pretty simple question to answer. Even if the answer is a little unsavoury. But if the question then becomes: “How do I make people do what I want them to do without dehumanising them?” then that’s a far harder question to answer. And it may not have an answer.
But over to you. What do you think?
Shepherd: David Masters