Following The Guy In Front Of You Over A Cliff

Ira Chaleff speaks about his book The Courageous Fellowship.

After seeing holocaust survivors with numbers tattooed on their arms from the horrors of the concentation camps, Chaleff asks “How does this happen?  How do people follow murderous leaders?”

In response Chaleff comes up with the five dimensions to follow courageously:

Courage to assume responsibility–don’t expect your leader to provide for you, but you act for the common purpose that you both serve. (as John F. Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”)

Courage to serve–recognize the tough job of leadership and help to unburden and support the leader so he/she can be successful.

Courage to participate in transformation–become full participants in the change and transformation process; ask what you can do differently to improve.

Courage to constructively question and challenge–when policies and behaviors are counterproductive, step up and voice discomfort and objection.

Courage to take moral action–in rare, but needed circumstances, you must be willing to dissent, leave, or refuse to obey a direct order when it is unethical or illegal.

I greatly appreciate Charleff speaking out and teaching others to do so and calling for all to “act as principled persons with integrity.”

Charleff see leaders and followers less in the traditional hierarchical model and more as partners in achieving a common purpose–and this flattening of the hierarchy enables followers to question, challenge, and dissent when the boundaries of integrity are violated.

While I too believe we must serve courageously and not just follow blindly–as one of my teachers used to say, “if the car in front of you drives off a cliff, are you just going to follow him?”–I am not sure that Chaleff fully addresses the challenges and complexity in what it means to “step out.”

While we may like to envision a flat organization structure, the reality in most organizations is that there is a clear hierarchy and as they say, “the nail that stands out, gets hammered down”–it is not easy to challenge authority, even though it can, at rare times, be necessary.

Finally, while Charleff focuses primarily on speaking up when there is a moral issue at hand, I think it is important to also be forthright in everyday issues and challenges that we confront.

Being good at what we do means that you don’t just participate in leaderthink or groupthink, but you think on your own and share those thoughts earnestly.

However, once the decision is made–as long as and only when it is moral–then you must serve and support that decision and help make it as successful as possible.

Leaders and followers are a team and that means having the courage to fully participate and having the humility to respect chain of command and serve a noble mission, appropriately.

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