Follow the Leader

Heidi KasevichArchived, Conference, Leadership Lab

“Follow the Leader.” In classrooms across our nation, the vast majority of kids today interpret this phrase in the very same way we did when we were young.  This command–follow–, more often than not, conjures up thoughts of a follower’s weakness or docility. In our schools–and workplaces–we still tend to associate a leader with someone who is daring, alpha, and gregarious: he takes charge rather than takes care, and he gives orders rather than listens to others. He is the opposite of a follower.  

What will it take to deconstruct this binary categorization and replace it with the more fluid notion that leaders are followers and followers are leaders? The idea that leadership skills are followership skills, too?

Let’s begin with a shift in mindset, a philosophical one that has the blurring of boundaries at its core. The 6th century yin/yang symbol captures the way in which “opposites” are complementary and not diametrically opposed to one another: the yin, the dark coolness of the earth, flows into the yang, the light warmth of the sun, and they invade each other’s spaces so as to create a dynamic, perfectly round circle.  Energy is ignited in the process.  

This mindset shift sets the stage for the cultivation of what Robert Greenleaf calls servant leadership; in his groundbreaking work in the ‘70s, he posited that effective leaders are those who focus on the growth and development of followers instead of organizational success. Servant leaders are fundamentally humble, a character strength that can be cultivated by people of all personality styles–introverts and extroverts alike. Those who are humble are not “in it” for personal glory; instead, they have a fierce commitment to, and passion for, the mission of their organization. The Values in Action Institute on Character equates humility with an accurate assessment of one’s strengths and weaknesses, an ability to admit mistakes without being overly self-critical, and a seeking of multiple perspectives through active listening and feedback. Humble leaders ensure that followers have opportunities for leadership.

The energy that can be ignited in organizations with humble leadership is dramatic. Research reveals that humble leaders can create cultures in schools in which teachers are more satisfied with their jobs, students attain higher test scores, and discipline problems decline. In a parallel study in the corporate world, a Journal of Management study found that humble leaders have less employee turnover, higher employee satisfaction, and they improve the company’s overall performance. 

So, how do we raise our kids to be leader-followers? Let’s start from a place that is both gender-neutral and personality-expansive. We need to convey that every individual possesses qualities of leadership, which is not limited to those with a title or those who are the loudest members of a group.  As Oprah Winfrey aptly avers, “There are multiple levels of leadership. Your leadership within your own family, your community, how you lead your life, how you present yourself in the world as one who is willing to use what you have to give to others.” 

Presence, Passion, and Compassion form a triumvirate of a broader definition of leadership, involving the power to rather than the power over. Per Amy Cuddy, Presence involves “the ability to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, and values.” In other words, we know who we are. We are familiar with our strengths and challenges, and are willing to fully engage with others in our day-to-day interactions. We are neither fake nor scripted, and we shun both distraction and impulsive reactivity, responding to others with candor and empathy.

With Passion, we invite students to discover what they really love to do, or as Daniel Pink declares in Drive, “to hitch their desires to a cause greater than themselves.” We assist students in tapping into their intrinsic motivation, and we make learning relevant through real-world experiences and projects that can potentially forge local, national and global connections. 

These mission-driven leaders understand that they are fundamentally team players, committed to actualizing the potential of everyone else on the team. With Compassion, leaders reach out, asking for and giving guidance, and infusing their teams with a sense of purpose. As Roshi Joan Halifax asserts, compassion involves a desire to benefit others, and it is distinct from empathy, which involves cognitive and emotional resonance. 

Exposure to this more expansive approach to leadership is critical as we raise the next generation to make a difference in the world. They are best able to do so with Presence, Passion and Compassion. 

 

Dr. Heidi Kasevich is the founding Director of the gcLi Academy and founder and CEO of Kase Leadership Method, a mission-driven organization committed to fostering temperament-inclusive cultures where people of diverse personality styles can thrive. An expert in quiet and women’s leadership, she serves as career coach for nonprofit leaders. 

Dr. Kasevich recently served as Director of Education at Quiet Revolution, where she launched a national introvert-inclusivity professional development program, featured in numerous national magazines and radio programs. Her proficiency is grounded in 20+ years as leadership/history educator, department chair, and program director at schools in NYC and Paris: Nightingale-Bamford; Dalton; Berkeley Carroll; New York University; Cooper Union; Académie de Paris (Oxbridge Academic Program). 

Dr. Kasevich is co-author of The Introverted Actor: Practical Approaches, and her forthcoming publication Silent Talk: Setting the Stage for Introverts to Thrive provides educators at all levels with research-based strategies to create introvert-friendly classrooms and nurture quiet leaders.