raising followers

This morning I’m comparison-shopping sombreros and bajas for the elementary school book fair, sponsored by the PTA, before the meeting to be held later this morning to discuss details for the upcoming fair, where we’ll review dates and add more to-do’s to our lists. There are some mothers who enjoy this type of thing, I suppose–welcoming the social interaction, the opportunity to play a larger role in the school, a warming sense of “giving back” and “helping out.” I sign up out of a sense of obligation and duty, and I absolutely dread any and all added responsibility in my life. I despise leadership roles and refrain from them at all costs. I volunteer to never volunteer to lead any committee. Among friends, I’m rarely the one to organize the plans, to call for reservations, to coordinate schedules, to research the restaurants (okay, egregious lie, but only because I obsess over menus), and many of my friends love me for this very quality. Because it allows them to be in control, the way they like it! Everyone wins! I want no control, they want it all.

I wonder if this quality is hard-wired in us–if possessing qualities of leadership are innate talents which can develop into strengths or flaws (control freak/ micro-manager) depending on how they’re nurtured. Though I think I’m muddying the waters because there’s a difference between leadership and control. Instead, I should say, does one raise a Type B child, or is she born this way? And just because you’re “Type B” it doesn’t mean you’re a follower, exactly, but you are pretty likely to just go with the flow, whatever (not to the detriment of others, and it doesn’t mean you’re not inventive or creative, but you sometimes prefer the behind the scenes approach of attack). I understand the need for more women in leadership roles throughout our country, and I believe in building confidence and equality. I also believe in knowing your own strengths and believing in the power of those strengths and leading through using them. My strengths are my honesty, wisdom, and overarching creativity. Sometimes these lend themselves to leadership roles, like being a mother, or an art or writing teacher, for example. But organizing a school committee or being a classroom mom is my idea of air turbulence where the oxygen masks drop down for you and for the safety of those around you. I am forever thankful that we don’t all share the same strengths, that there are women who thrive as PTA Chairs and heads of committees, that they are willing and able to make and take the time to create the school we love for the ones we love. I am also thankful not to be one of them.



  1. I have the opposite problem with those situations. I have a hard time relinquishing control, but sometimes I don’t have the time to take on the responsibility of being in charge, and I don’t like to be seen as the bossy one (which I most definitely can be). So, when I am dealing with group planning activities, I try really hard not to be in charge, but inevitably I get frustrated that no one else is really leading, so I end up taking over and running the whole thing anyway.

    That being said, I absolutely adore my friends who are happy to take the passenger seat when it comes to social plans, and I’m always happy to find the restaurant, make the reservation, and have them meet me there. If only you lived in Chicago, we would work well together!

  2. It’s an excellent question…are we hard-wired…..are we not….reminds me of a lecture in business school about the difference between managers and leaders. :) Can you raise a kid to be a leader and a visionary? That would be so interesting….

  3. This is such a great piece, and I really like your perspective. I think staying true to ourselves is immensely important. In some instances, I do not mind leading and making arrangements. In others, I would rather sit back and enjoy the event without knowing any of the behind-the-scenes action.
    That being said, I think the most frustrating is when people think that they are laid back and go-with-the-flow (the worst kind of woman, high maintenance but thinks she is low maintenance) when in reality they do want a specific outcome. I do not mind bossy people. I don’t mind laid back people. But I do mind it when people say one thing, and think another.

    1. Author

      Oh, agreed. I come up against this in parenting a lot, as I suspect many do. When you relinquish a role you often do to a spouse, you need to resist the urge to step in and coach from the sidelines. If they say they’ll do something, you have to let them do it their way, so long as they’re not going to maim anyone. You may see things that will save them time in the long run, but it serves the relationship better if you let them navigate their own way through it, as much as it may injure your tongue.

      As for others, like, “Oh, whatever you want is fine with me.” Then they choose. And then, they make that tight stiffened smile groan face. LOVE THAT.

  4. I’m surprised you don’t like taking the leadership role in these things. Because you’re organizing stuff to do during playdates, doing crafts with your kids vs having them learn the cast & plot to General Hospital *ahem*, and I don’t know…you just seem more Type A to me.

    I think its a born thing. I’m a lazy Leo. Always been the same, even as a kid. A procrastinator. Like a cat, I’d rather lay and preen than be the head of a group. I was in a sorority and I wanted to sit in the back and goof with someone vs be on the Exec Board. I join groups all the time only to not really want to DO anything besides socialize. I’m never going to be Class Mom, I’ll be on the PTA to know what’s going on but I’m not heading up anything. I don’t want to & I don’t pretend to want to. I’m the comic relief in the corner at those meetings.

    But I can totally be bossy. For me, it’s an all or nothing kind of thing. I don’t want to be overinvolved and get in over my head so I tend to do nothing. I fight only battles I can control that don’t involve committees- like campaigning to get bread service back at Houston’s & fighting with the Board of Ed over stupid new Kindergarten rules.

    If everyone knew their strengths and weaknesses vs trying to be what they’re not, everyone would be a lot happier. That’s how I feel about having more kids. I knew I would be a great mom to ONE. I knew I only wanted ONE. People have MANY opinions about that- from it being mean, to me likely to have a weird, spoiled kid, to who knows what. But I know what I’m capable of. I know people who have more because they felt guilty having just one, not giving a sibling, they wanted a certain gender, they caved to a spouse’s request, they did to “save” a relationship, their mom told them to- you name it. And now they’re pretty miserable. If they’d been more self-aware, they wouldn’t be miserable. I think self-awareness is HUGE, in every/any aspect of life.

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