Lessons from Obama – Leadership or Followership?

Posted by on Nov 12, 2008 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Don't see any slowdown in the "lessons from Obama" stories on- or offline.

Seems like his success has become the Apple or Nike of commentary in politics, media, society, marketing – you name it, he's a great hook to hang your prejudice on.

What I'd like to add to the conversation is this: lots of talk about him as a leader and what his leadership style will teach us – lots of debate during the election whether or not he was a suitable person to occupy the White House

BUT…(you felt that was coming didn't you?)

…very little about us.

You see we tend to look at the singular thing – and its unique or special qualities – to explain an unusual outcome; we love to project out there rather than look at the real causes of this unexpected state of affairs – us and our interaction with each other.

It's always been about us – as the man repeatedly pointed out

His campaign was built on facilitating us – what's 'yes we can' about if not this?

His programme is about us – and not about him

That's what the turnout levels so surprising – he got us to do his marketing for him

So, when you're asked to ponder his "leadership" qualities, try seeing it from our point of view – as followers

We follow each other all the time: vertically as in authorities and leaders we chose together but always and more importantly, horizontally in terms of the people we see around us. Copying by another name

Followership, though doesn't sound that cool in business – as if it's worth $billions in remuneration – so no wonder business schools don't teach it but prefer "leadership" instead

Followership doesn't sound as cool as "influence" – what the singular folk are supposed to do to us.

Followership doesn't sound the thing for addressing the big issues that we face; bring on individual heroics every time

But remember that dull and uninspiring 'followership' is what got us where we are as a species.
As that recent letter in New Scientist put it:

    "Many animals mimic each other's behaviour but we do it more often and with greater fidelity. Our     compulsive copying encodes collective knowledge into our society, and it is really our society that         possesses humanity's 'intelligence'"

Extraordinary individual that Obama is, extraordinary unlikely the path that took him to the Oval office, just remember it's our followership, of each other and of the ones we choose to lead us that make him so…


  1. David Stobs-Stobart
    November 12, 2008

    I believe online communities have a big opportunity to exhibit the same attitude to followership. Great post, thanks.

  2. John
    November 12, 2008

    But what about Robofish and those examples from the animal world?