This Friday I am speaking at the Youth Engagement Conference sponsored by the Union of Reform Judaism. My topic is Followship. If you haven’t the term before it’s because I just made it up!
Here’s the basic idea. Leadership in a flat, side-to-side environment has to have equal parts followership and leadership. It can’t just be the notion of “leadership” as we’ve traditionally known it as the guy who points to Valhalla and says pack your stuff because we’re going there. Additionally, it can’t be what some folks think networked leadership is – just following where the gang online wants to go, helplessly, hopelessly, without voice or direction.
So, what is it? I think it’s a principled form of facilitative leadership. By principled I mean driven by a core set of principles that include (this is somewhat particular to my audience on Friday of people working to engage teens in Jewish life):
- Listening, and then listening some more,
- Developing relationships over controlling content,
- Talking to people where, when and how they want,
- Steering rather than rowing by connecting to the social hubs in the teen network and having teens talk to and encourage each other,
- Sharing joy and fun.
Once the core set of principles are established, and the ultimate goal is crafted, then the only question is how to get from here to there. And that’s what is left up to the participants to decide. That’s the following part. Rather than focus on developing set curricula, Followship focuses on the leader providing a safe, constructive, fun place to explore ideas and issues as driven by the participants. So, in the case of working with Jewish teens, the ultimate goal is supporting and building a generation of young people actively engaged in Jewish life, and the principles are outlined similar to the ones above, and teens are invited to develop, with active guidance, what they want to do over, say, a school year’s time, to explore issues and ideas with a Jewish lens. For instance, maybe they want to talk about living an ethical life by studying professional sports. Is it cheating to take enhancements that haven’t been specifically banned? And what if everyone else is taking them? And is there both a spirit and letter of the law when it comes to sports and ethics?
I know this can feel frightening for teachers who were taught that their positions were based, in part, on their content knowledge. But, frankly, you can get content anywhere online now. What you can’t get is experience, and loving guidance.
Wondering what you think of this idea? Does it work? Are there holes? I’m going to use #followship on Twitter for anyone who wants to discuss.