Quiet Power: Teams Need Followers Too


Teams need followers too in order to perform at the highest level. That’s the case Susan Cain is making in a recent NY Times article.

team need followers too

Cain makes a compelling case that schools and colleges emphasize leadership requirements for all applicants and students while ignoring the obvious–not everybody can be the leader.

Thinkers, doers, poets, scientists and artists also belong on our teams.

Yet a well-functioning student body — not to mention polity — also needs followers. It needs team players. And it needs those who go their own way.

It needs leaders who are called to service rather than to status.

Define Leadership

Part of the issue is how we define leadership.

Cain argues we need to expand the definition beyond the vocal leader and include those who lead by doing.

This change would also reduce the pressure on creative and curious students who do not lead in the traditional manners, but feel pressure to do so in order to be accepted into our most prestigious institutions.

Teams Need Followers Too

She evokes the beauty of a team where each member plays her role while she also extols the individual who goes off alone to forge a path.

Team players are also crucial. My sons are avid soccer players, so I spend a lot of time watching the “beautiful game.” The thing that makes it beautiful is not leadership, though an excellent coach is essential. Nor is it the swoosh of the ball in the goal, though winning is noisily celebrated. It is instead the intricate ballet of patterns and passes, of each player anticipating the other’s strengths and needs, each shining for the brief instant that he has the ball before passing it to a teammate or losing it to an opponent.

The Meaning of Leadership

She also makes a great point that we are reorganizing our selves around a “hollow” version of leadership.  People are seeking leadership roles to stuff their resumes and applications and not for the right reasons. We are losing sight of a sense of purpose and a pursuit of excellence.

Perhaps the biggest disservice done by the outsize glorification of “leadership skills” is to the practice of leadership itself — it hollows it out, it empties it of meaning. It attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve. It teaches students to be a leader for the sake of being in charge, rather than in the name of a cause or idea they care about deeply. The difference between the two states of mind is profound. The latter belongs to transformative leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi; the former to — well, we’ve all seen examples of this kind of leadership lately.

She has written two books as well.

Quiet and Quiet Power. I have read and recommend the first. Quiet Power is new and on my list.


“Not Leadership Material? Good the World Needs Followers”  (NY Times March 24)

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