The Cult of Leadership

“If you aren’t a leader, you’re a failure,” reads the principle doctrine of the American Leadership Cult. “There are two types of people in this world,” its leaders dictate in their rehashed platitudes, “Leaders and followers.” ‘Leader’ is distorted to include anyone successful, that by nature of being successful one must be a leader.  ‘Followers’, meanwhile, is demoted to represent blind, unquestioning workers who wallow in mediocrity and scavenge like vultures off the kills of the aforementioned master race. Followers are uneducated, unhealthy, and poor, they’re slaves to the consumption of brand names and TV news. It seems a twilight of moderation does not exist between these two poles, it is absolute binarism. Zeroes and Heroes are the constituents of the planet.

In our ferocious desire to create the revolutionaries and Nobel prize laureates of tomorrow, we have forgotten the value of contribution and of presence. We have forgotten that for every employer there are employees, and that there is immense strength in those who choose not to lead but elect to contribute.

Educational institutions and corporations provide countless opportunities to build leadership skills and to take command of a group – here at Bryant University we have Linked through Leadership, Greek Leadership, Orientation Leaders, Bulldog Leaders, C.E.O., and countless other programs all devoted to training self-identified leaders but not one program to teach you how to be part of a team. There are no summer internships designed for the student who raises his hand every class but who doesn’t wish to lead his group project. The resume from the club member who provided invaluable insight every meeting but declined a presidential nomination rarely receives a second look. Why, when we can reliably expect that only a small number of us will become positional leaders, do we devote all of our resources to the coach and none to the players?

Perhaps this mistake is predicated on the idea that the best way to accomplish a goal is to put a hierarchically homogenous group of leaders in a room. Perhaps their stereotypical extroversion will create a culture of conversation, their energy will synergize to create intellectual cold fusion. My fraternity lives by this principle – we recruit the leaders, the talkers, the comedians, and fall victim to this expectation of success. What we have instead is thirty-four alpha males constantly competing for attention at every opportunity. We have recruited so many talkers that no one will listen; there is no teamwork because collaboration means sacrificing your precious idea for another’s. Our enthusiasm may occasionally combine to form the pinnacle of modern energy science, but too often it creates a war for volume and a battle for gesticulation territory. We still manage to create and achieve incredible feats, but it is in spite of our constitution, not because of it.

One day, our society may succeed in its misguided ideals and turn every individual into a leader. Huzzah, an army of leaders to solve the problems of the world! Ten billion people will each have a dream, and not a soul will listen.