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If you want good leaders, learn to follow.

The Romans were not prepared for Hannibal in the first Punic war (War elephants were not in the training curriculum), and Pope Paul V had a problem with Copernicus and heliocentricity. Later, France and Britain were not prepared for Blitzkrieg because that was not how gentlemen did war. Legend has it that IBM Chairman Thomas Watson thought there was a market for maybe five computers globally and was not ready for Bill Gates. Major retailers were not ready for Jeff Bezos.

In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.

Eric Hoffer

None of the people who upended the paradigms of the established order followed the rules, and neither will those who we need to lead us out of the mess shareholder capitalism, and hubris has brought us to.

It seems unfair that those who have spent a fortune learning old ways and following old paradigms will find themselves like those surprised Romans, but that’s what happens when we accept orthodoxy.

The leaders we need are amongst us, but rarely celebrities. They are running businesses built on ideas of contribution, being delivered by people who believe in them and who are set free to do the work. The momentum is being developed by companies who believe in the same things who see each other as collaborators more than competitors. The majors, for all their investment in agile, are nowhere near those who don’t need to do the training because they do it by instinct.

Followers have a role to play. Being a follower is no longer about compliance and passivity. The followers who count are active and curious. They buy into the idea but expect a say and to be listened to and acknowledged.

Being a follower is hard work. We have to teach ourselves, not wait to be taught. We have to share risks and put ourselves on the front line because what we are doing has not been done before and might not work. Followers like this are not footsoldiers, they are artists in their own right. They are a community and belong to each other far more than a single organisation. Movements are like that.

If we want to make a difference, work on being a good follower, and connect to others doing the same.

The leaders you’re looking for will appear.

Filed under: Articles

About the Author

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Complexity and volatility create enormous opportunities for those willing to go beyond the boundaries of "business as usual" to explore the edges of their business. I am an entrepreneur, a coach, a creative thinker, and above all, an explorer of possibility.

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