Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Leaders and followers......

.....there has been a lot of speculation about whether Obama will live up to the hype - to people's expectations - and generally commentators guess he won't.

Well, of course, how could he?

In a sense we get the leaders we deserve - because we get the leaders we create. A leader is in many ways just the sum total of all of our hopes, fears, expectations and - yes - projections.

So its encouraging that at this moment the US - and the rest of the world - has got in Obama a leader who promises hope: who (in the words of Nina Simone's song) is "young, gifted and black". (Coincidentally the title of an album by Aretha Franklin, who sang at his inauguration today).

This must say something encouraging and hopeful about the state of the world, of democracy, and of human development?

But leaders are ever at the mercy of these communal projections - whether US presidents, parents or teachers.

I know that as a "teacher" (or facilitator), I am never quite as all-powerful, as all-knowing, as wonderful (or as awful) as my students imagine.

The learning journey is usually one in which the student moves from dependency to self responsibility. It's one reason why I am so excited about the development of the Personal Learning Environment, of initiatives in collaborative learning and the use of self and peer assessment.

In the same way, mature teams are those which assume responsibility for delivering outcomes and don't fall apart if the boss proves to be a fragile human being - just like the rest of us....

Indeed, teams can be self managing: there needn't be a leader at all - and each individual accepts that they have a key part to play in the success or failure of a project.

I am currently involved in a "leaderless project" as part of the Digifolios Ning Community on personal learning spaces and accepting individual responsibility for supporting the completion of the task, collaborating in learning and sharing resources is the unspoken principle behind all we are doing there.

So the real question is, are WE going to live up to the promise that Obama's election brings? Will we disappoint ourselves as a global community? Will we accept responsibility for the successes and failures ahead - and are WE prepared to do something to make a difference?


  1. WOW -
    What else can I add to this. You said it all.
    I love the way we put your heart and should in this post and how you unveiled the secret fears and hopeful expectations we have about the surrounding worlds that impact on ours.
    Like prof. Green once said in one of the sessions he hosts online in Connecting Online ning, more than leaders, we need followers.
    I do understand what we mean - we need to inspire one another to keep strong in this self and collective discovery journey.
    Thanks for the great thoughts!

  2. Thanks for the feedback - sometimes when I write I fear I don't make sense to anyone but myself -it's great to know that others share my passion!

  3. Political change is extremely difficult for a number of reasons. One is opposed by rich and powerful individuals and organisations who want things to stay the same. Sometimes the 'grease' which enables change is in short supply - as is the case with the US (and the world) economy today. Administrative institutions tend to be monolithic, slow to change even when willing to do so. Often extraneous issues get in the way, distracting one from one's main goal.

    Obama will have a difficult time of it, but he has vision, energy and, most importantly, a real will to leave the world a better place, unlike the normal crop of politicians whose main aim is to enrich themselves.

    I am used to being disappointed by politicians, the most recent two being Thabo Mbeki and Tony Blair. I expect nothing of Brown and little of Cameron but I have a positive 'JFK' feeling about Obama.

    God bless him.

  4. Oh I so agree - especially about the optimism and the JFK feel: I watched BBC2's inauguration night documentary about OB and am even more impressed now....