Not everyone can be a leader

Colleges shouldn’t overlook the importance of followers

Sophie Gilliland, Online Editor-in-Chief

When students first start high school, they are often told that there are three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who don’t know what happened.

Of these descriptions, everyone knows that they should be the person making things happen if they want to have the full high school experience and get into prestigious colleges. Colleges, as a mirror of American society, prefer leaders to followers; they emphasize the importance of not only participating in the community, but also playing a significant role in the community.

“Today we prize leadership skills above all, and nowhere more than in college admissions,” Susan Cain said in an article for “The New York Times.” “Now we have high school students vying to be president of as many clubs as they can.”

Perhaps embedded in the American Dream itself, there is something admirable about leaders. Taking initiative, being looked up to, and speaking up for those who are too shy or unable to speak for themselves are all positive traits that people associate with leaders.

“When I’m a leader to others, I try my best to follow the rules and set an example for those who want to look up to someone and I want to be that person that people will look up to,” senior golf and soccer captain and ASB treasurer Shelby Bartlett said. “It makes me feel good that I’m proud of helping other people through what they are going through.”

While being a leader is certainly a good quality, some argue the emphasis placed on leadership corrupts the terms of being a leader and makes it less honorable in some instances.

“I know some people who take leadership positions in clubs just because they want it on their college applications,” junior JCKC president Nicole Lam said. “Those are the kind of people who tend not to do their job as a leader.”

“Being a leader just for colleges and looking good is not the definition of a leader,” Bartlett said. “Being a leader is going out of your way for other people around you.”

But not everyone is born to be a leader — nor should they be.

“A well-functioning student body — not to mention polity — also needs followers,” Cain said.

While leaders who can take action are very important in communities, the followers who are reliable are equally important.

“I find leaders to be people who others tend to look up to and followers tend to be people who others respect because they can be very trustworthy,” Lam said.

Even though followers are generally seen as valuable, they are also seen as less important in society which leads them to have a negative association.

“No [one] in his right mind … would admit that [he is] a natural follower,” Cain said. “Few colleges would accept one with open arms.”

Colleges work to prepare students for what they might need in the adult world and leadership skills is one of those qualities, but not everyone can be or needs to be a leader. The emphasis on leadership can pressure students into becoming the people that make things happen when they aren’t or into devoting themselves to a cause they don’t truly care about simply because that’s what colleges seem to want in applicants.