An interesting thing happened to me this weekend, something that doesn’t typically happen to a student within the parentheses of Friday and Monday: I learned something! And no, it wasn’t how many beers I could chug in five minutes. I learned the value of sheep. Confused? Allow me to elaborate.
This past Saturday, October 28th, Victoria College played host to a leadership conference entitled The Departure Gate. I happily gave up most of my Saturday in order to attend the conference, after I’d been lucky enough to be granted a complimentary ticket along with nine of my fellow Woodsworth peers.
I wasn’t sure exactly what I would get out of the day, but the event website promised a day of leadership development, engaged group discussion, and empowered lectures from four renowned speakers. The funny thing is — although I was impassioned by each of the speakers and had learned important qualities for being a good leader — what I had found most valuable was something that had little to do with the conference and yet everything to do with good leadership. I learned how to be a good follower, a good sheep.
You see, I feel that there’s a certain type of individual that signs up for a leadership conference, or at least one that pays $65 to attend one. Either they self-identify as a leader, or they are looking to pick up the qualities that they desire and feel that they need in order to become one. More often than not, these qualities centre around your ability to lead a group, i.e. to be outspoken, opinionated, driven, and more often than not, vocal. Now the problem was that on Saturday we had twenty-five of these people crammed into a room and then asked to cooperate on specific tasks. First, we were given a pack of spaghetti and some tape and asked to build the tallest tower possible in seven minutes. Of course, in a room full of leaders, everyone has an opinion that they think is the best and that they want to be heard. The result: total and utter chaos!
Everyone yelled at each other frantically, trying to sell their idea in as little time as possible. No one, including myself, seemed to realize that they were all talking at the same time, and that no one’s ideas — however good they may have been — were capable of penetrating the cacophony of voices. The consequences of this showed, as with time up, our tower lay on its side, and our “team” was left to consider what may have been if we weren’t all so keen on assuming this misguided idea about the role of a leader.
Our group facilitator — having had the opportunity to watch us flounder — then berated us for our lack of cohesion, and explained the next task to us as we all nodded at his insights and instruction. Regardless and oblivious to his wisdom, the second task began in much the same fashion as the first, with many if not all of the group members claiming to have the perfect solution to the problem. Realizing the imminent repetition of confusion and ultimate failure, I shut my mouth, stepped back, had a look at the group, and quickly realized that this wasn’t going to work. I was not going to give my opinion this time.
Instead, I listened, and leant my voice to someone else’s process, even though I did not necessarily think that it was ideal. However, it was one that I felt we could all agree upon, and this was better than shouting ideas that would never even be fully realized. I didn’t get my idea out there, but this tiny sacrifice give two voices to one opinion, and slowly but surely, the value of this began to show and one by one, we got behind the idea, even if it was a compromise, and suddenly we had one leader and six sheep. The important thing to note is not so much that we succumb to one member of the group, but that we had formed an important hierarchy and a team, wherein we had one leader but he needed us as much as we needed him. This is the symbiotic relationship that exists in almost every social situation, i.e. not everyone can be the leader!
The problem is though, that the title of follower is often associated with dependency and it’s often set in a negative connotation. In reality though, there’s nothing subsidiary about being a follower. We are all followers at one point or another: we follow our parents, we follow our teachers, our mentors, a higher power (maybe). Oftentimes it’s more likely that you will find yourself in a position where it’d be more beneficial for the group, for you to step back, listen, and be a good follower: you’ll likely build a bigger tower, or at least one that stands.