While my own life and work haven’t slowed down amidst covid-19 in order to allow for extra Netflix time, I have been on a quest to explore some of the modern cinematic epics. (So far, none of them holds a candle to Star Wars, though I am a child of the 80s!)
Along the way, I completed the 8-film Harry Potter series, and I came across this short bit of dialogue in the final film.
Two characters are standing in a window, observing a massive horde assaulting the castle-school, and preparing to do their part to defend it. One of them, wizard Kingsley Shacklebolt remarks that it might be helpful to have one or two more defenders standing with them.
Then, Remus Lupin (who happens to be a werewolf) states, “It is the quality of one’s convictions that determines success, not the number of followers.”
When Kingsley asks who said that (undoubtedly hoping it’s some credible sage), Remus answers, “Me.” So unless we’re prepared to take a half-man, half-wolf at his word, perhaps we need to evaluate this statement before we simply assume that it’s true.
I certainly agree that the success of an endeavor is not merely a numbers a game. It is not simply the case that the best idea attracts the most adherents, nor is it the case that just throwing enough human resources at a project will guarantee success.
I recently finished the fascinating biography of British parliamentary abolitionist William Wilberforce (by Eric Metaxas); like Wilberforce and his compatriots, how many times have various minorities had to advocate for their righteous position against an opposed majority? And across history, how many minuscule forces have successfully resisted the onslaught of being vastly outnumbered? (The film 300 comes to mind.)
On the other hand, there is a sense in which a critical mass of followership does give credence to an endeavor (see Chapter 6 of Embracing Followership), and none of these ventures can be completed in total isolation, on one’s own.
So, your effort may not attract the masses, but it should attract some others who will come along and participate with you, contributing to the furtherance of the shared goals. If no one does come along, why is that? Because you’re not sharing your goals, not inviting others in (trying to play ‘lone wolf’ to Remus’ werewolf?), not engaging in dialogue/relationship with others, or because your project isn’t actually a worthwhile pursuit?
Sincerity alone is not enough, especially not solo sincerity.
It is interesting to contrast the followership of modern ‘influencers’, those stars of social media who are paid to endorse various products or ideals. (I’m always thankful to be outside of the US during the season of political adverts!) For these influencers, it usually is merely a numbers game, and rarely about the quality of their convictions, nor even the quality of the product itself! Say something enough times to enough people and hope to make some sales, to get some people on board.
So Remus says that it’s not so much about numbers but “the quality of one’s convictions that determines success.” And yet I smile as I write this post, fully aware that one of my motivations is that if I don’t publish at least every two weeks, Google will decide that this website is no longer worth surfacing when people search for relevant followership items, and so in order to hopefully connect readers with helpful content (“success”) I do indeed have to play a numbers game, further revealed in hoping to show up in enough web searches that at least a few people will click the link to come here, and a portion of those will discover true encouragement and equipping for their journey of embracing excellent followership.
Despite my convictions about the validity and necessity of quality followership, maybe Remus is dead wrong: our modern world is based on a numbers game.
Perhaps the question to further probe is what is ‘success’. For Remus to be right, that notion of achievement may need to be defined differently than the default norm of our contemporary society.
Participation and engagement—although the foundation of my own message to followers—do not guarantee the successful attainment of all one’s desired outcomes; it is not a simple mechanistic process: put enough of the right kind of effort in and you will eventually get your result.
So then, is it failure if the outcome you desire never materializes?
Or, if your convictions mandate action, activity and engagement on your part, and you do indeed participate and contribute, then is that the kind of success that Remus promises? So long as we stand and fight this horde, rather than giving in, we—in some sense—win?
How about considering the way that you conducted yourself in your endeavors, your motivations, the quality of your relationships, and the nature of the impact you had on the lives of others? Perhaps there were other gains apart from what you (and the world) sought? Maybe it’s not about number of readers or clicks or votes, but on acting from our convictions to engage with other human beings in a meaningful way? And the pursuit of a particular goal is maybe more about the means, and the platform of opportunities for such influence that it creates, even more than being about the ends?
If your convictions are of such quality that they primarily mandate living and acting according to certain values, then maybe ‘the bottom line’ loses its supremacy as a rubric for the evaluation and definition of success.
So, Harry Potter may not contain wisdom on par with Yoda, but I think Remus is onto something, and we may be invited into a truth if we just reword it slightly (my adaptations in italics):
“It is one’s convictions of quality that define success, for whatever number of followers are with you.”
For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following and leading with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:
Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Feb 2016), and A Discussion Guide for Teams & Small Groups (Dec 2017) —