CampusOpinion

The U of A needs a followership college

On a recent Facebook troll, I came across a YouTube channel created by a friend of a friend who was accepted into med school this year.

Despite the fact that he is not an admissions officer, this blogger took it upon himself to make a series of videos aimed at helping med school prospects succeed in their applications, with titles like “My High School to Medical School Pathway in Canada” and “Advanced Study Strategies for a 4.0 GPA.” In one episode, he discussed “good” versus “great” extracurriculars.

“As good as conventional volunteering may be … you have a good incentive to seek out something more original or unique,” he says.

“As opposed to joining an already-existing student group, perhaps you have found a particular cause that you were passionate about and started your own campaign or student group.”

Does it matter whether a student group with a similar platform already exists? No. Does it matter if this new group actually makes a difference in its field? Not particularly.

Over the past few years, universities have fetishized “leadership” ad nauseum. It’s gotten to the point where time is wasted and resources are squandered simply because no one is willing to step back and follow the vision of someone else. Though I understand that MD-, MBA-, and JD-hopefuls want to differentiate themselves from their competition and satisfy extracurricular expectations set forth by top schools, we should be critical of the ivory tower’s fixation on the notion of leadership, even if the word has essentially lost all meaning.

For all the research that has been completed on leaders and leadership development, little has been said about the nature of followership and its role in making change happen. While we invest thousands of dollars and countless hours into training our future leaders, we expect good followers to develop on their own. But unless followers are motivated, intelligent, and critical, leaders become delegitimized, tyrannical, or ineffective. If we claim the qualities that exemplify leadership can be taught, surely the industriousness and humility associated with followership can be, too.

Followership development has been inhibited not only by our preoccupation with leadership, but by the desire to create a false dichotomy between extraordinary leaders and ordinary followers. This fixation is based off elitist assumptions that those who excel in a field for whatever reason are qualified and competent enough to lead those who are less traditionally successful. It implicitly says that anyone who is a follower is unimportant and unworthy of admiration.

If we were to stop glorifying leadership and do away with the contempt we have for followership, we would not only get more meaningful work done, but we would create a generation that commits to common goals with enthusiasm and energy, without the desire for celebrity status. It’s time we start teaching students that followers make just as much of a difference in the world as leaders do, and that it’s entirely possible to live a satisfying and positive life without constantly striving to be ahead of the pack.

4 Comments

  1. Kate,

    I teach followership at the doctoral level in the U.S. and could not agree with you more. On behalf of followership researchers and colleagues across the world, I applaud you for writing this article. I write about leader-follower relations in the context of mindset at individual, relational, and collective levels and believe that we need to be more mindful of separating leaders from those who are being led. The two go hand in hand. However, as you astutely point out, not recognizing the led continues to be a major challenge for our society. As the relational nature of leadership continues to unfold, may all professions set up and take note. Thanks for this posting.

    Dr. Rob Koonce, Founder
    Can We Communicate

    Lead Editor and Author, Developing Leaders for Positive Organizing (Emerald, 2017)
    Lead Editor and Author, Followership in Action: Cases and Commentaries (Emerald, 2016)

  2. Kate,

    I teach followership at the doctoral level in the U.S. and could not agree with you more. On behalf of followership researchers and colleagues across the world, I applaud you for writing this article. I write about leader-follower relations in the context of mindset at individual, relational, and collective levels and believe that we need to be more mindful of separating leaders from those who are being led. The two go hand in hand. However, as you astutely point out, not recognizing the led continues to be a major challenge for our society. As the relational nature of leadership continues to unfold, may all professions set up and take note. Thanks for this posting.

    Dr. Rob Koonce, Founder
    Can We Communicate

    Lead Editor and Author, Developing Leaders for Positive Organizing (Emerald, 2017)
    Lead Editor and Author, Followership in Action: Cases and Commentaries (Emerald, 2016)

  3. I agree wholeheartedly. Another thing the university should focus on is collaboration. A lot of these “high achieving leaders” have terrible team-working abilities, and need to learn how to shut the fuck up for 5 seconds and listen to what others have to say. Maybe then they can actually achieve something meaningful as opposed to these superficial efforts to look good to MD Admissions, but lack any really substance or drive.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly. Another thing the university should focus on is collaboration. A lot of these “high achieving leaders” have terrible team-working abilities, and need to learn how to shut the fuck up for 5 seconds and listen to what others have to say. Maybe then they can actually achieve something meaningful as opposed to these superficial efforts to look good to MD Admissions, but lack any really substance or drive.

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