Leaders and followers


Photo by Barby Dalbosco on Unsplash

“Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur nowadays,” said Jason Teo, the screenwriter for JUO Productions. “Everyone wants to lead. But there must be people to be led, no?”

It might be the startup bandwagon or just the fact many successful CEOs’ pieces of advice got distorted by those short two-minute Facebook clips. We tend to think we need to be a leader and create a groundbreaking product to make a difference.

Well, we talked about that previously – you might want to give it a read if you haven’t.

Ancient leaders – Aurelius and Commodus

I recently watched Roman Empire: Reign of Blood on Netflix and I think the story of how Commodus’s reign was the beginning of the end of the 1000-year-old Roman Empire is worth sharing. He clearly did not understand the importance of having competent followers to help lead the country.

Commodus was the son of Marcus Aurelius, arguably one of the best Roman Emperors in history. Marcus Aurelius was known not just for his governance of Rome and command of the Roman army, his Stoic writings – Meditations – are widely read even up to today.

Emperor Aurelius knew the limitations of constantly being on the battlefield because, at that time, Rome was in a long and painful war with the Germanians. He understood the importance of rallying the support of the Senate, a group of elite Romans with immense influence and wisdom, second only to the Roman Emperor.

While Emperor Aurelius hated the Roman political system, it was crystal clear to him – he had to depend on the Senators. Commodus who co-ruled with his father was oblivious, though.

When Emperor Aurelius died from the plague that killed millions of Romans over the years, Commodus was barely 17 years old.

Despite his father’s advice to earn the support of the Senate, Commodus opposed the Roman Senators at almost every chance he got. Commodus thought he was invincible – he thought him being the Emperor meant he could lead the country alone.

Historians think he was consumed with paranoia, causing him to lose trust in everyone. His rebellious acts against the Senate eventually led to his assassination, proving his mortality.

If Commodus could understand Aurelius heavily depended on the Senate to be the ruler the latter was, perhaps Commodus might not have been assassinated. In most of Roman history, Emperors who had the favour of the Senate left more celebrated legacies than those who didn’t.

The reason is clear. The Roman Empire was 50 million people strong at the time of Aurelius’s reign. It was impossible for Aurelius to reach all 50 million people, he needed the help of other influential people – the Senators.

Even the Roman Senators had people under them to reach out to the other Romans. You get the idea. It was a whole network.

Modern day leaders and followers

There is not a single CEO of a successful startup or company who got where they are without a team. A team of followers. People who believe in his or her vision.

Without his team taking care of the operations and execution parts of the business, all ideas wouldn’t become a reality. Ideas are great, but most ideas die in our heads. Kudos to Bryan Victor who told that to Timothy and me.

It’s only when someone or rather, some people, are there to execute, will the idea materialise.

Sure, a leader is important. A leader is a guiding compass keeping the team on track towards the goal. The leader must be present to keep things in check, ensuring the direction is clearly communicated to all team members.

However, we should never forget the merits of the leader’s followers. A leader is only as strong as his or her team. If a leader is blind to the significance of his or her followers, he or she is merely a leader in name and of power.

Respect followers as much as leaders

In any case, we shouldn’t frown upon the followers and definitely not at those who choose to follow. People who choose the lives of followers have the humility to admit the foresight and strengths of those who lead them.

Followers might not be able to lead a vision, but they surely can make a vision come true. I guess Jason and I are similar in this way – we might not be very original thinkers but our strengths lie in fleshing out different perspectives of an idea.

Leader or follower, we all have our parts to play and make a dent in the universe in our own ways. Leaders and followers have to lead and inspire each other, that is how we make a vision come true.

To end off, here’s a quote from Simon Sinek, author of global bestseller Start With Why,

“There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or influence. Those who lead inspire us.”

Listen to Anecdotes, a podcast where my friend Timothy and I listen, learn and share inspiring personal stories. Jason Teo, the screenwriter at JUO Productions, was our most recent guest. Click here to listen to that episode.

About the author

Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.

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Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.