The Value of Followship
Originally published for Ontario Nonprofit Network.
What would you think if I told you that you should become a Follower?
From childhood, we are taught the value of leadership. We are encouraged to develop our skills in leadership, from the classroom to the workplace. Often, the benefits of leadership are tied to ideas of individual success. I will lead. I will take charge. I will be successful. What we can often overlook is that we do not exist in our own spaces. We overlap with one another.
I grew up shaped by experiences of difference and violence; this permeates all of my work. Earlier in my life, I let the fact that I’ve gone through so many different experiences blind me from seeing the larger picture and my place in it. Since I have a University education, I thought I knew my stuff. Since I have felt erasure and marginalization, I thought I knew injustice. Since I can be a leader, I thought that I should be.
A couple years ago on a hot summer day, at a Black Lives Matter gathering, someone I deeply admire addressed the allies in the crowd. Would we, he asked, be willing to step back and let them drive this march? Would we step down while they led this movement? Would we stand behind their leadership – without making this about us?
Despite the Canadian narrative of multiculturalism and our propensity to view ourselves as better off than our southern neighbours, we live with deep inequities and injustices. We are founded in these truths. We must confront the fact that our silence and inactions make a larger statement than our actions.
We must ask how we will move forward with this. Our power, intentionality, and love need to be brought into every day, every step of our work. We don’t always need to be leaders. We don’t always need to sit at the helm. We can ask ourselves how we can share our power. We can remember that though we may face certain barriers ourselves, there are challenges others face that we may not.
Shaping our cities and services for community goes beyond looking at built form or system structures – at its core, it’s about self-determination. As leaders impacting political, public policy, and other systems around us, it is on us not only to lead the charge, but to Follow – with a capital F. True allyship – true inclusivity – includes making sacrifices. It cannot end after one-off actions or at our convenience. It’s not a story we can tell. It’s about how we live. It demands we be quiet. It demands we let go. It demands we look beyond what we can do to help.
We must learn when and how to let others lead, and when and how to use the tools at our disposal – our power, our privilege – to actively challenge oppressive systems. How will we shape our cities to empower its peoples, encourage learning and togetherness amidst complex change? This is for us to decide.