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Led Poisoning

The best cure for bad leading is a good dose of following.

If there's one subject I dread writing about, it's leadership. What else has been as overdone? Just look in the "leadership" section of any bookstore. You have your The Leadership Engine, The Heart of a Leader . . . not to mention "The Leadership Secrets of" everyone from Attila the Hun to Charles Manson. But with all that reading, how will you ever get around to leading?

And who follows all these leaders we're creating? After all, isn't a leader someone people follow? Authority isn't a thing. It's an interpretive process that, while tangible, resists the solidity of a thing. Weak leaders can't wait to make it solid-hence scepters, big chairs, executive washrooms, etc. Real leaders don't need to assert their authority; people just naturally follow them. Think Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

So what will the leader of the future look like? The Ted Turner model doesn't work for me anymore. The sign on Ted's desk read, "Lead, follow or get out of the way." It's a tad too 12th century. In the third millennium, we all have areas we lead in and others where we don't. Consider Dell, which has no R&D department. They've chosen to lead in "assembling" other people's R&D.

Now, whose opinions do you pay attention to outside of work? Can you use those opinions in your work life? What can your kids teach you, not just about using a computer, but about living in a computer-centric society?

Once you start asking the questions, don't be surprised if the best answers come from within. After all, who better to lead you than you?

WATTS WACKER-lecturer, bestselling author, political commentator, social critic and CEO of FirstMatter-is one of the world's most respected futurists.

This story appears in the January 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »