“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” –Possibly misattributed to Albert Camus
How fitting. How apropos. To begin an article about leadership with a quote on leadership that may or may not be misattributed to Albert Camus (was that a double negative or an inverted positive?). Alas, misattribution happens. I doubt Mr. Camus is rolling in his grave. But if he is, he’s more than likely leading by rebellious example. After all, he did write my favorite quote of all time: “I rebel; therefore we exist.” Which is also apropos, and not a misattribution. But don’t take my word for it. I’m no authority. I’m just some dude on the internet with the audacity to put things in perspective. Question all authority, to include the authority who told you to question authority (Was that a double entendre or a non-authoritative Mobius strip?). Which leads us to reason number one for why we need more empowering leaders and less disempowered followers…
1.) Leading by example trumps leading by authority:
We don’t need more self-serious bossy-types waiving their authority around like a bludgeon nicknamed Ultimatum. We need more self-deprecating guides tossing up doorways leaving it up to us to decide if we walk through or not. We don’t need leaders who want followers. We need leaders who want a sense of comradery on their journey through the unknown. We don’t need preachers up on high talking down to the flock. We need trailblazers blazing up their own trails and showing by moral/amoral example how others can do the same.
On the flip side: We don’t need more whiney followers unquestioningly going along with the status quo. We need more self-questioning, world-questioning, open-minded autodidacts. We don’t need followers who think they need leaders. We need self-educated individuals seeking guidance and the shoulders of giants. We don’t need the bleating heart of sheep who are mesmerized and compromised by the shepherd’s spell. We need the courageous heart of lambs-turned-lions who have the audacity to break the spell. In short: we need more self-empowered individuals willing to take on the fates. As Seneca said, “The fates guide those who will; those who won’t they drag.”
2.) Learning for guidance trumps following out of laziness:
There are giants in those hills! I beseech you: seek them out. By “giants” I mean geniuses from human history. By “hills” I mean books. Climb aboard. The Giant’s shoulder can often be a bumpy ride, but it’s usually worth it; because you’re either learning what works or you’re learning what doesn’t. Or, even better, both.
We don’t need more crutch-leaning hangers-on who put all their eggs into one basket or all their thoughts into one book; we need more people who are willing to learn from the wisdom of geniuses past, and then have the audacity to question that wisdom if need be. We don’t need more unthinking sycophants clinging to blind faith; we need more open-minded free-thinkers questioning everything to the nth degree. We don’t need more people taking the easy route and following the lemming-like herd just because “that’s the way it’s always been done,” we need more people willing to question the way it’s always been done and then have the courage to create a path of their own.
More questions, less answers. Instead of one book, many books. Hell, with enough books you can build a goddamn giant of your own!
3.) Courageous self-liberation leads to the lib
3.) Courageous self-liberation leads to the liberation of others:
The follower who clings to one basket, one book, or one hand-me-down way of being, becomes a fear-ridden, soul-crippled slave to the parochial past who never discovers authentic leadership, only base bossiness and corruptible authoritarianism. They lead by one-right-way weak example.
On the other hand, the follower who can seek out guidance from the intellectual giants of the past, connect the dots between them, question them, and then use it all as brain-food that feeds their own soul-craft, becomes a self-liberated leader par excellence. They lead by flexible and robust example.
The self-liberated leader who can lead by flexible and robust example, in turn liberates others. They are beacons of hope in the hopeless dark. They are beacons of dark in the holier-than-thou light. Their needle-in-haystack hearts nevertheless manage to pierce the entire haystack. They shine like diamonds in dark times. They are not afraid of becoming the Hero with a Thousand Faces, no matter how often they have to painfully recondition their conditioned face (Nietzschean self-overcoming).
4.) Empowering others trumps disempowering others:
All-too-often the powerless are kept that way because those in power are fearful, one-right-way leaders who lead by weak example. The so-called “powers that be” are afraid because on some level they realize that their power is false, lacking in any authentic prestige. And so they disempower the powerless so as to maintain their inauthentic, non-prestigious, authoritarian power. In short: they are incapable of empowering others because they themselves have never truly been empowered. Greg Prescott said it best: “We need leaders, not politicians. But in this world of followers, we have forgotten to lead ourselves. Stop waiting for change and be the change you want to see. We didn’t get to this point by sitting on our asses. The human race survived not because we are fastest or the strongest, but because we worked together.”
True power empowers. Authentic power does not need to cling to power, it releases it instead. It spreads it out. It expiates it. Think Harry Potter breaking the Elder Wand. Think Maximus (Gladiator) informing Senator Gracchus that after taking over Rome he would just leave. Empowering others through expiation trumps disempowering others to maintain power. Why? Because true power is prestigious and built upon respect, not rigid and built upon fear.
5.) Learn-liberate-empower-repeat is far superior to follow-limit-disempower-stagnate:
As it stands, we live in a follow-limit-disempower-stagnate type of world filled with inauthentic leaders flexing authoritarian pseudo-powers. They would rather lead by weak example and maintain their grip on inauthentic power than lead by robust example and empower others and thereby discover prestige and authentic power. Since they gained their power through fear and hand-me-down authority, they don’t realize that there is far more power in prestige than there ever could be in authoritarian fear-mongering.
False leaders create tyranny through invulnerable power-grabbing. True leaders create freedom through vulnerable power-expiation. Power-expiation directly and indirectly empowers others. We don’t need more so-called leaders creating more followers; we need more authentic leaders empowering more would-be-leaders.
Just as cooperation is primary and competition secondary, in order for the human condition to thrive; so too is empowering others primary and competition with others secondary, in order for leadership to be authentic. This is vitally important to understand. It strikes at the heart of the human enigma. It plucks at the deepest chord of our propensity, or lack thereof, toward achieving a healthy human evolution that moves in harmony with the cosmos. It beats upon the primal drum of the human leitmotif. If we cannot resolve the way we follow and, in turn, the way we lead, then the human race will not be equipped to adapt and overcome to an ever-changing world and a never-permanent, unforgiving universe.