I’m not a great photographer…. I’m not even a “good” photographer. I’m not skilled at aligning the “composition” and “lines” with aspects of lighting and “depth.” Photographers are credited with having created or constructed art from behind the lens of a camera, however what we see is the focus of their work – aspects of the world that capture their attention.
As I reflect on what scholars often refer to as follower-centered leadership, I began to consider the relationship between a photographer and leader. In A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Leadership, Jackson and Parry refer to Meindl’s contribution to leadership studies by noting, “leadership is fundamentally predicated on the relationship between leaders and followers, the followers almost invariably took a minor supporting role in the analysis of leadership” (p. 47). They go on to describe that research has often focused on how followers represent leaders in their thought systems – unless follower recognize leadership, then it isn’t leadership.
I envision photographers as leaders – behind the camera, zooming in on specific challenges and opportunities; honing in on followers needs, social issues and the demands of day. Zooming out, they are charged with seeing the whole situation – conceptualizing strategy, communicating broadly and often offering solutions to small and systemic problems.
What happens when they zoom in and focus on the “wrong” composition?
Or they zoom out… for too long, too often… and don’t capture the images that tell the story of their mission. Can one image – either close up or from afar – capture the essence of leadership? I don’t think so.
Recently, I had the opportunity to support an undergraduate student as she conducted a research project with 10 school-age youth, asking them to identify healthy foods in their home, at school and in the community. Linda gave them each a camera. It was theirs to keep; a tool for exploring the world. The camera was theirs to keep. The images they brought back were remarkable. Each of them saw the world differently. They captured images close up, from far away and every where in the middle. They identified, through their lens and in their world what healthy living meant to them.
Linda is a fantastic photographer. She chose, however, to share the leadership of this process with them. Her photographs could have easily been grouped, discussed and analyzed for the purpose of the study, rather she allow them to co-author an experience in which they identified and shaped the outcome. She promoted a co-creation of leadership by empowering, inspiring and confirming their experiences, skills and interests; she promoted them as leaders.
I value the many perspectives I capture from behind the lens of a camera; I find more joy in celebrating the perspectives captured by others seeing and experiencing the same opportunities to define a common purpose.
When we consider follower-centered leadership, it calls into question how we refer to a “follower.” This question was raised by one of your colleague’s recently stating, “I just feel that subordinate is a demeaning term.”
So, if we aspire to co-produce leadership in a more follower-centric manner, generating an equilibrium in which leadership can be focused and sustained from the perspective of “leaders” and “followers”, how should we refer to “subordinates”?