By: Kate Wallin
It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? Letting others lead. It’s not a new idea – that in order to be a good leader, you need to learn to be a good follower as well – but it’s challenging one.
In a conversation between Shane Claiborne and Dr. John Perkins, chronicled in their book Follow Me to Freedom, they hit on this very issue: who to follow? There are lots of options, and as helpful as this writer would like to be – I’m not going to narrow the field at all. But Perkins and Claiborne offer a fresh perspective and some timely suggestions on the art of learning to let other lead.
They’re the ones with more life experience than you. Whether they come with stories of success or heartache and hardship, they are the ones who have learned a thing or two in the years they’ve got on you. As Claiborne says, “Submission to men and women who are wiser than me has shaped me. It has changed me and made me stronger.” Claiborne mentions a few: Tony Campolo, Mother Teresa, even Perkins himself. A defining characteristic, though, is his relationship and experience with these leaders and elders. Claiborne has done life, for years or for a season, with each of the elders he has chosen to follow and emulate. Doing life together, watching and observing the daily and private as well as the public side of your mentor is important in learning to follow in order to learn to lead.
Perkins offers a beautiful, albeit atypical, perspective on friendship. He says, “There’s an interesting element in leadership and followership, and it really comes out in friendship. There is an authority established in friendship. Your friends have authority over your life. They will confront you in your ignorance and you can’t ignore them because of your respect for them. If you have weak authority in your life, you will be a weak person.” Strong words, Grandpa Perkins. But true, in his perspective. Your friends – especially during the close-living, community days of college – have all-day, every-day access to your life. It’s conventional wisdom that they affect who you are and who you are becoming. In learning to let others lead, its good form to consider the effects following others – especially peers – has on your development as a leader.
Following your foes? Claiborne argues it can do something good to you. “Some of my best teachers are my critics. We learn more from people who challenge things we say than form people who just parrot “Amen” to everything we ay. We all see through the glass dimly. Our experience forms us, and so when you’ve had really different lived experience, you arrive at some different conclusions.” He concludes that this is the gift of being a part of the Body – seeing through the eyes of others. So while it might be strange to think of embracing even the harshest of critiques, Claiborne argues that this does us a service is learning how to lead in the way of Jesus.