On July 14, 1789, French laborers, farmhands, and citizens along with members of the French guard stormed and overtook the power core of the monarchy. In a rapid and aggressive advance, the citizens of France stormed the Bastille, demanded their rights and began the process of winning back their dignity. This rag-tag band of revolutionaries was driven by a deprivation fomented by not only an insatiability and desperation brought on by starvation but by a blood lust to bring down King Louis XVI of France. The citizens of France, empowered by rage and emboldened by wrongs, set their sights on justice. And in that process, enflamed an engine and ignited the French Revolution; a societal upheaval that would not end without the head of the monarch.
What started at the Bastille, finally ended on December 11, 1792, with an indictment on the king. “Louis, the French people accuses you of having committed a multitude of crimes in order to establish your tyranny by destroying its liberty.” Concluding the somber, royal denunciation of the king’s influence, historian E.L. Higgins recounts the turn of the events, “the executioners seized him, the knife struck him, his head fell at fifteen minutes after ten. The executioners seized it by the hair, and showed it to the multitude, whose cries of ‘Long live the Republic!’ resounded to the very bosom of the Convention.”
No more than a month later, in the Proclamation of the Convention to the French people, tyranny’s end came simply, “Citizens, the tyrant is no more” a proclamation that reverberated through the streets of France. The leader lost his head, his followers laid down their weapons and recaptured their dignity and etched a small lesson in history’s annals; the tale of a followership who took down a king.
Humpty dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty dumpty had a great fall;
Threescore men and threescore more,
Could not place Humpty as he was before.
Howard Zinn, an American historian, author, and social activist writes, “The memory of oppressed people is one thing that cannot be taken away, and for such people, with such memories, revolt is always an inch below the surface.” Zinn strikes at the heart of the leadership problem, its followership and their ability to reveal a leader’s core and misappropriation of its power. Zinn’s insight begs the question of where are the leaders who don’t oppress, but rather beckon followership by their leadership qualities? We know there are hordes of “actors” posing as leaders but what about leaders who we can trust.
I was recently asked by an executive in oil, “How do you pick future leaders?” I said, “There are dozens of factors, but if I had to say one thing, look for the guys who can step out of the center or limelight and still influence…there you will find your future executives. He asked, “why?” “Because if history has proven anything, it is that given enough time, individuals will not tolerate being discarded. True leaders understand this rather unbecoming trait of us all and are willing to elevate their people and ‘serve’ this need in order to transform both the individual as well as the organization.” The level of a leader’s self-absorption is directly correlated to their ability to influence a following.
The root of almost every toxic and impotent leader is their inability to place their follower’s needs above their own. We have wrestled with this notion for well over 2,000 years and yet we remain almost solely inept in leading from a place of sufficiency in order to allow our followers to flourish. Our exaggerated self-worth repels longevity, followership, and an ability to influence a mass that are equally unable to see beyond their own self-interests…therefore, revolt lies just below the surface. We can either change humanity or accept the responsibility of true leadership [You matter when your people do].