I’m a fan of the Star Wars saga; as a boy who grew up in the 1980’s, I could hardly escape it.
While I will always treasure the original trilogy for the quality of their storytelling and special effects, I do appreciate the more recent films for the additional backdrop they create for this grand space opera.
Episode II, which was released in 2002 and entitled “Attack of the Clones”, has stirred up in me some recent thinking about followership. (And also taken me back to some of my original inspiration in considering followership: the rodents known as lemmings.)
In the film, a genetically engineered army is created. What caught my attention is that this army, composed entirely of soldiers cloned from a single original, consists of a wide variety of units and ranks. There are pilots and artillery specialists, tank drivers and special forces commandos. And there are captains and cannon fodder.
It made me ask the question, “How do you promote a clone?” In our society, the cynical part of me says that meritocracy or nepotism are at the heart of a good deal of job placements. So, how do things work where no one is especially related to anyone else and where everyone has an identical set of raw talents and abilities? How could there be any differentiation created–and enforced, or even received and respected–when everybody is the same? (I’ll answer this in a moment.)
There is a penchant among some leaders (at times, myself included) to wish that all of one’s subordinates (followers) were alike. If I could treat everyone the same–use the same approach to communication, rely on the same level of competence & trust, expect that everyone would respond unanimously and harmoniously–then some of my role as a supervisor would certainly be simplified. I could send a single email that everyone would read, interpret, and take action on–all in the same way. How simple, how efficient!
On the other hand, some of my role would be impossible. Without a variety of talents and perspectives, some things would never get done, some important factors would get overlooked, and my own failings and shortcomings would become all the more evident if there was only a very shallow pool of abilities amongst my colleagues to lean upon.
In answer to my question, in the clone army, how could there be any differentiation when everyone is the same?
Because it’s an organizational necessity.
Much to the chagrin of lazy leaders who might like the idea of everyone behaving and responding the same, no organization, no association, no business, no team will function well if everyone is identical. There has to be diversity of roles, talents, ideas, and experiences. Within the clone army, someone has to be promoted to captain and commander because a military organism must consist of more than just grunts, or medics, or pilots. In an era of flat-organization appeal, hierarchy is truly not the opposite of effectiveness, accessibility, or flexibility.
How do you promote a clone? On what basis? Because it’s essential to an organization. Because role diversity is necessary.
Thankfully, none of us work amidst a pool of clones–even those of us that think it could make things easier. When we consider promotion, or the broader idea of role placement, we have all kinds of filters we can use (candidate merit and/or longevity, personal political gain, impact on the bottom line, etc.). But ultimately, we must consider the organizational needs and how those align with the thankfully diverse pool of human resources that are available.
We are blessed not to be working with clones. The leader-follower dynamic is, at its heart, a real relationship…and the qualities of ownership, trust, and even forgiveness–which no clone possesses–enable our organizations to function with more ‘universal’ effectiveness and ‘forceful’ impact than a fictional military established a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following with excellence and helping others to do the same (with specific thoughts on empowering & promoting in Chapter 27), see:
Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Kirkdale Press, Feb 2016)
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