|This is the final and truly excellent chapter of "Markets, Mobs and Mayhem" by Robert Menschel, Senior Director of Goldman Sachs, 2002.|
In a democracy such as ours, every man is a king, but not all kings are created equal. Any organization - whether it's basketball, a steel company, or a school - has to be pyramidical to prosper and survive. Life has leaders and life has followers, and there will always be more of the latter than the former. The question isn't whether everyone is going to have an equal voice in every enterprise. The real question is how best to exercise your obligations in those situations in which you find yourself called to lead and in those in which you're asked to follow or required to walk behind. The following are some rules to keep in mind for each role.
Question authority. Just because a dictate comes from on high doesn't mean it comes from the high road or is imbued with the highest motives.
Don't be afraid to speak up. If leadership is willing to listen, you might just make the difference. If it's not willing, you could be marching in the wrong parade.
Keep a close eye on momentum. The more you feel yourself being propelled forward against your will by those around you, the more you need to dig your heels in and puzzle things out for yourself. Would you make this investment or take part in this demonstration on your own? Or are you drawing your courage and conviction from the crowd?
Put yourself in charge, at least in your own mind. What are you leading people toward or away from? And why? The more you can see your actions simultaneously from inside and outside, the greater your depth perception will be.
Trust instinct. Reason has a way of deserting us when the crowd gets moving, but instinct seldom does. A course of action should not only make sense. It should feel right deep down.
Tolerate insubordination - not totally, but enough so that good ideas and course corrections can bubble up from below. A leader surrounded by yes-men hears only one word.
Practice humility, too, and don't forget basic physical principles. When you're sitting on top of the pyramid, you're being held up by everyone below.
One question: Is the course of action you're pursuing for your own glory or for the good of those who are following you? Leaders get more rewards, but they have to be willing to accept the responsibility the crowd has placed in them and exercise it to the common benefit.
A second question: Have you laid the groundwork so that those below you will follow you when the going gets tough and there's no time for debate? Trust isn't imposed. It's the accumulation of hundreds of small acts.
And a third one: Are you really in charge, or just parroting someone else's phrases and following a well-worn trail? Leading is about more than sitting on the head horse or occupying the biggest suite of offices. Leadership requires vision and the courage to go the course alone if need be.
In the final analysis, whether we're leaders or followers, the madness of crowds is a question of individual character: How much we yield to the collective impulse and how much we retain for ourselves, how much we make up our own mind and how much we allow others to make our choices for us. Don't fight the crowd just to be on the outside - crowds have good impulses as well as bad ones - but don't go along just to get along either.
Keep your own counsel, have faith in your own capacities, make the important decisions in solitude not in the tumult of the moment, and you can't go too far wrong, whether you're risking your money, your vote or your honor.