Saturday, September 19, 2015

Leadership Is Overrated

Boy, I hadn't thought about this in a while, but then Mark Zuckerberg personally recommended the clip to me (well, the facebook link algorithm tossed it up on my feed) .

Go ahead and watch it. It's quick and simple and powerful.

The main point here is that leaders, while celebrated and honored, are not nearly as important to a movement as first and second followers, who make the difference between a single nut and a growing movement. Seeing that point made again sparked two separate thoughts.

Teacher Leaders

The vast majority of "teacher leader" programs are not about leadership at all-- they're about conning teachers into being first and second followers. Caspar McGrubmoney provides whatever program is being promoted (the leader) and now, so that the program doesn't look like a lonely nut dancing alne in a field, the hunt is on to recruit teacher leaders who are really meant to be the first and second followers who make the lonely nut look like a burgeoning trend.

When you are asked to take point and be the teacher leader on an implementation of some program, you are not being asked to be a leader-- you are being asked to give the program your first follower stamp of approval. They don't really want you to be a leader-- they want you to be a first follower to make the actual designated leader look less like a lone nut.

The vast majority of attempts to raise up teacher leaders aren't looking for leaders at all.

Of course, much of the reformster agenda has been a search for first followers. To see why it doesn't work, imagine if Dancing Guy had started offering other people fifty bucks to be his first follower, and they took the money and proceeded to dance, not with joy and commitment, but with mechanical half-heartedness. The innumerable "How the Common Core Showed Me How To Teach" essays we've been subjected to have been failed attempts to generate first followers.

Ditto the occasional slanted poll that attempts to create the illusion that the first followers have arrived and a crowd has already gathered.

The biggest challenge in the video-- the idea that the leader must embrace the first follower as an equal. 

Nobody ever took a video of the guy who gets up in a field and does some horrible bad imitation of dancing, twitching without joy, rhythm or a sense of the music, but gesturing wildly for people to come join him and give him money when they do. Then he just gives up and hires some guys to force everybody to get up and dance with him, and punch them if they don't dance "right." That guy is dancing to some Common Core reformy tune. He's probably trying to dance in a three piece suit. It's hard to get first followers when your dance sucks.


We give a lot of attention to fostering leadership among students. I've never encountered anything about fostering first followers.

Yet there have to be valuable abilities there. Spotting just which leader to throw your lot in with. How to recognize whether you've made a mistake or not. How to welcome others to the movement. How to follow.

This works so much against our culture of Looking Out For Number One-- the dynamics of how to get in on and foster a movement by being an effective early follower are so powerful, but so alien to how we tend to think. It may really rankle to talk about being a good follower, but of such things are important movements made. Now I am really, really curious about how to make such a thing part of my classroom world. If you've got any helpful materials or insights, I would love to hear about them.


  1. I think reading Remains of the Day with your class would be a good way to start this discussion.

  2. Hmmm! I think this clip could use a new sound track say...Arlo Guthries opus "Alices Restaurant."

  3. Hmmm! I think this clip could use a new sound track say...Arlo Guthries opus "Alices Restaurant."

  4. Hmmm! I think this clip could use a new sound track say...Arlo Guthries opus "Alices Restaurant."