No, Mr. Brooks, America Does Not Have a Follower Problem

A few comments from David Brooks most recent article entitled “The Follower Problem”.

But the main problem is our inability to think properly about how power should be used to bind and build. Legitimate power is built on a series of paradoxes: that leaders have to wield power while knowing they are corrupted by it; that great leaders are superior to their followers while also being of them; that the higher they rise, the more they feel like instruments in larger designs.


The old adversary culture of the intellectuals has turned into a mass adversarial cynicism. The common assumption is that elites are always hiding something. Public servants are in it for themselves. Those people at the top are nowhere near as smart or as wonderful as pure and all-knowing Me.

You end up with movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Parties that try to dispense with authority altogether. They reject hierarchies and leaders because they don’t believe in the concepts. The whole world should be like the Internet — a disbursed semianarchy in which authority is suspect and each individual is king.


I don’t know if America has a leadership problem; it certainly has a followership problem. Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted. It’s mostly because more people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.


To have good leaders you have to have good followers — able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it

I’ll start with the last comment first…

The fundamental dynamics in the relationship between a person or persons in authority with those under that authority is one of lead and follow, not the other way around.  The greater responsibility in regards to outcomes of a situation lies on the shoulders of those in positions of authority, not on those under that authority.  It is up to those in positions of authority to determine what kind of leadership will be provided and how it will be provided.

A good leader will NOT take the trust and confidence of those under their authority for granted.  They may be able to demand a certain level of respect from those under that authority towards the position of authority itself, but any trust and confidence on a personal level has to be earned and gained.  The best means by which a person in a position of authority can earn and gain confidence is through leading by example.  The kind of example that is provided can and very frequently does have a direct influence on the outcomes of a situation.  A good leader will recognize that this is true and apply both prudence and discernment in decision-making.

If situations occur in which those in positions of authority betray the confidence and trust that might have been placed in them by those under that their authority, then it is likely to generate a higher intensity of questioning that authority and a general cynicism in regards to what the person or persons in authority may be trying to accomplish and achieve.

Just because a person is in a subordinate position in that authority relationship does not mean that the person is suddenly devoid of all responsibility to hold themselves accountable for what they do.

Our founding fathers warned us to be “vigilant”, meaning that we should be watchful and wary of any dangers that might threaten this country, regardless of whether or not those dangers come from without or within.  They didn’t say “follow blindly along behind the lead that is being provided for you”.

We have both rights and responsibilities as citizens of this country.  And when what we see day after day is that corruption in government, contributed to in a large part by those in positions of authority over us, is increasing, especially when it puts our livelihoods at risk and our nation’s economic survival on the line…we’re in the right to question whether we as a society of people want to follow that kind of lead.

We’re also in the right to choose to say “no” and try to find other people who will take those positions of authority who might provide better leadership for this nation of ours.


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