So i was waiting in line at Capers, on Robson Street in Vancouver, grabbing a porridge breakfast en route to the Wild Salmon rally and an hour at the Cohen Commission (“into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River”) last Monday. There was a bulletin board, and among the for-sales and event announcements there was one that struck me: an announcement for a “youth leadership” program. It struck me i’ve seen many similar ads in recent years — youth leadership has become something of a trend among social progressives (apparently unsatisfied with the current state of “elder leadership”). Not having custody of any youths myself, i never paid them much attention before. But now i wondered how many young leaders there might be out there, fostered by all these youth leadership programs.
Then i thought, a leader is nothing without her/his followers. And suddenly i was wondering how many more wanna-be leaders we really need. It seemed to me that, given the necessary numbers split between leaders and followers, what we need is more is educated, thoughtful followers. Too many leaders is like too many cooks; everybody visioning and bossing, nobody actually doing anything. In a nutshell, isn’t that the trouble with the political left these days? Every “leader” with a cause in their bonnet these days gathers three like-minded friends, registers a nonprofit, throws up a website, applies for a grant, and by dint of furious effort, proceeds to make little or no difference in the world.
There are some giant-sized problems wracking our world right now, problems big enough that ten thousand fractious, scattered, isolated little groups can’t begin to grapple with them. Humanity needs a huge pulling-together if we are going to have a hope of making a dent. So a solid course in youth followship might be more desirable than yet another on leadership. Off the top of my head, such a course might address:
- detecting duplicity, hypocrisy, dysfunction, dishonesty in leaders
- detecting “big man syndrome” — ego-driven leaders, versus those who serve a cause and the people
- how to tell when leaders are working for your interests, versus theirs (or their funders’)
- distinguishing a movement from a cult
- seeing through sound-bite politics and spin
- telling short-term thinking from long-term
The program might also begin correcting the cultural bias that casts leaders as great/important/famous/sexy, whereas followers are seen as mere sheep.
Many say the world is crying out for leadership. Yet so many of us are following the leaders we have — into wars, climate disaster, social decay and economic decline. I’m thinking the world needs a few million smart, discerning followers. Then, in the way of things, the right leaders will spring forth when the conditions are ripe.