So we have members of the Obama team saying their boss leads by following.
And we have the Republicans ridiculing that practice. Former NYC mayor Giuliani said on the CBS morning news: “They say he leads by following. I wrote a book on leadership and that’s an oxymoron.”
If he wrote a wise book on leadership he wouldn’t be saying that. If he was intellectually rigorous, he would be explaining to the TV audience what the term meant. But maybe that’s too much to expect from the opposition.
Leading by following is something many wise leaders do and it is something that fits Barack Obama’s personality, far as I can tell. It can be a confusing term, I will grant you, but it has a profound meaning. All leaders –eventually –must be in touch with the people they lead. They must know what motivates them, what they want and what they are suffering from.
All leaders must be aware of their constituency, lest they find themselves way out front, looking around for someone to lead. And all leaders must eventually speak in “the coin of the realm,” appealing to the reality the group faces and speaking in the language they know and use.
Obama, being a collaborator and consensus builder – if he stays true to his nature –must continually reach back to the nation as an audience and discover, and rediscover, what peoples’ lives are like and, in a sense, know where they are going.
Leading by following.
His voice and the voices of the Congress are important in that process too, but they are not all important, a belief politicians frequently overlook. Leading by following is an ongoing process that includes the voices of the people being led.
It is at the heart of democracy and I am saddened that more leaders are not practicing it.