I am not sure how many books and specialty courses are offered on leadership, but there are a lot. It seems as if everyone is interested in learning to be a leader. Oddly enough, there is no one agreed upon definition of what leadership is or a common list of the characteristics necessary for leadership or whether these are inborn traits or can be learned. And yet I have spent nearly three months learning something about the subject, at least from the horse’s perspective.
One model speaks of the relative position of the leader in relation to the direction the herd is going. One possibility is leading from the front. In military language we call this “leading the charge”. There is a lot of trust that the leader must have in that you have to trust that the herd will actually follow where you are going. Most leaders have to expend a lot of energy verifying this. And then there is the challenge of what to do about stragglers. The lead mare of the horse herd uses this method when leading the herd to water.
Another possibility is leading from the back. You see this in cattle drives where the humans ride or walk behind the cows and work to keep them together, pushing the stragglers to catch up with the herd. The herd must have a great deal of trust in the leader, for they cannot see the leader most of the time. And the challenge is how to make the herd go in a certain direction and maintain that direction.
The third possibility is one that I was shown during this sabbatical. It is called, ‘leading from the middle’. Certain tribes in Saharan Africa use this style a lot. As they lead their cattle to new pastures they walk in the middle of the herd. Here, the trust level for both leader and for the herd must be high. From the midst of the herd it is easier to identify and prevent stragglers as the herd will quickly tell you when the pace is too fast. And the herd can shift to a new direction more quickly. It seems to me that Jesus lead his disciples from the middle: both literally as he was always in their midst and figuratively as he demonstrated so much patience over their obtuseness.
All of these leadership resources tell the reader that no matter which position a leader uses, the leader must be balanced and how great continuity. Most of these same resources are terrible in teaching how this can be created. Some even suggest that either you know it because you were born with it or you don’t. Yet to be a good leader, you must also be a good follower. And most of the resources don’t seem to value spending time on how to be a good follower. Jesus spent three years teaching his disciples on how to be good followers, with only episodic opportunities to try on the leadership roles that they would so soon inherit. I would suspect that being a good follower is a very important skillset for any community member. Most herd animals are followers. And all leaders in the herd were first followers. I think this is true whether you are led from the front, from the rear or from the middle.
More on this in the next posting.