Lead Well, Follow Better

A biography of me

I have been a follower my entire life. I have a quiet demeanor, and I am generally shy when you first get to know me. I’m an introvert in the sense that I gain energy from being alone rather than in a group of people. For many years I have shied away from leadership positions, not because I felt incapable of handling responsibilities or even of leading a group, but because I felt I would be a more effective worker as a follower.

However, in today’s society, we tend to overlook the followers. We place such an emphasis on leaders and leadership that the idea of followership is completely bypassed. In many ways, this has made me appear inferior. I don’t have a long list of previous leadership positions — in fact it is quite short. Does that somehow diminish my work ethic or my intelligence? College admissions staff may say yes, and in fact, it sure felt that way when I filled out my college applications — I got denied from two of my dream schools. However, I feel my preference for being a follower has benefited me in many ways. It has made me appreciate my brief moments of leadership more, as in the picture I have chosen.

This photo was taken during this past summer, while I was working as a camp counselor at my childhood summer camp. Nothing has challenged me more than the work I did this past summer. Not only was I completely out of my comfort zone in a leadership position, but I also was almost entirely responsible for ten to twelve kids per week. I found myself drawn to the quiet-natured kids in my cabins — the kids that were clearly uncomfortable during the ice breakers and name games on the first day, the kind of camper that I was ten years ago. I felt it was important to let them know that it is okay to fall into the “follower” category — we can’t all be leaders, and we are not all meant to be. With my “follower” nature, I found myself more willing to listen to the desires of my campers than some of my fellow counselors. For instance, during my last week as a counselor, our cabin had “cabin choice” night. We were given a list of activities available and, as the counselor, I was to use my discretion and pick which activity my cabin would have for the night. However, Makayla, one of the girls in my cabin, suggested night blobbing — an activity that was not on the list. Makayla was a natural leader in the cabin. She was fun-spirited, loud, and got along with everyone. I knew that her suggestion was better than any on the list, and that night, our cabin bonded so effortlessly over our night blobbing activity. I let her take my role as the leader, and her unique idea benefited our entire cabin, counselors included. That was easily my favorite night at camp this past summer, and it was a night when I allowed myself to be a follower, not a leader. I became more comfortable with my leadership abilities at camp as the weeks passed, but I also found myself looking forward to the end of my work term with more anticipation. I needed to recharge and resume my role as a follower.

When placed in leadership positions, I still choose hold onto my follower tendencies. I give others’ opinions careful thought, and I tend to lead with a quiet nature. I have found myself to be a stronger follower than leader, and it has served me well. I think that followership holds just as much importance as leadership and that the qualities of a good follower — self-management, commitment, competence, and courage — are as equally beneficial as the qualities of a good leader. My name is Maggie Sohmer, I am a freshmen in college, and I take pride in being a follower, not a leader.

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