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“Follow You, Will You Follow Me?"

Janice Lane Palko
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000

Janice Lane Palko is a writer and the executive editor of Northern Connection Magazine.  Her writings have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Guideposts for Teens, Woman’s World, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Focus Magazine, Chicken for the Single’s Soul, A Cup of Comfort for Inspiration, and A Cup of Comfort for Expectant Mothers.  She was previously a columnist for The North Hills News Record and has taught creative writing at Allegheny County Community College.  A graduate of Union Institute & University, Janice lives in Pittsburgh with her husband of 28 years, Ed, and they are the proud parents of Caitlin, Christopher and Corey.

My daughter is getting married, and I thought it would be good for my husband and me to take some dance lessons.  We grew up in the 70s when all conventions were tossed out, including dance steps, meaning that our dancing skills have been reduced to draping our arms over each other and swaying.  We resemble victims of some tragedy clinging to each other for support rather than dancers.


After only a few classes, I’ve learned many things.  The first is that there are rules to dancing:  namely, women always start on the right foot and dance backwards.  It was said of the late great dancer Ginger Rogers that she did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in high heels.  I don’t know if she found that to be a burden.  I don’t.  However, what I do have a problem with is leading.  When you dance, the man leads—always.  And the woman follows—always. 


I don’t have a problem with this because of feminist inclinations; I have a problem because I’m a control freak.  I need to anticipate, know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there.  But that’s not possible when you are dancing.  You don’t know what you are supposed to do or where you are to go until you get the signal from your partner. 


After the first class, I had to consciously remind myself to surrender, give up the control and follow.  Becoming a follower has taught me some new skills and spurred me to examine what it means to be a follower and a leader.  As a follower, I’ve learned patience with my husband while he tries new dance steps and assumes his role as leader.  I’ve learned humility.  Control freaks are essentially egotists—we believe that no one can do it as well as we can.  I’ve learned to be intuitive—to pay more attention to the signals I’m being given, and finally, I’ve learned to trust.  You have to trust your leader to be a good follower.


Sometimes we pay too much attention to leadership skills at the expense of developing followership skills.  Even notice how odd the word “followership” seems?  There are leadership institutes, and a standard employment interview question is “describe a time when you were an effective leader.”  No one talks about being a follower unless you are in church or are on Twitter.  But no one is a leader all the time.  At times we lead and at others we follow.  Leaders are glamorous; followers not so much.  But if there aren’t followers, there can’t be leaders.  In truth leaders and followers need each other to make progress, and each position bears great responsibility.


We are familiar with leadership qualities, but what characteristics must good followers possess?  I believe the most valuable quality a follower should have is judgment.  Before you place your faith in a leader, you must examine his or her goals, motives and character.  And the leader must inspire, have principled goals and, most importantly, place the welfare of his or her followers above his or her own. 


There is one quote from the Bible from the letter to the Ephesians that always sparks controversy and provokes elbows in the ribs when it is read in church, but it illustrates the symbiotic relationship of leaders and followers.  It states:  Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy.


Everyone focuses on the “wives must submit” part, but overlooks the obligation husbands have as leaders.  A husband is to place the welfare of his wife over his own and be willing to sacrifice even his very life for her.  I’ll let you decide who has the heavier burden in the relationship. 


When my husband takes me in his arms and we begin to count out the rhythm, I trust that he has my welfare in mind, and I try to anticipate how I’m to move with him.  And whether we step on each other’s toes or lose the count, it really doesn’t matter.  What is important is that as a leader and follower, we are united and moving in the same direction.



Published in the November 2009 issue of Northern Connection Magazine;  Pittsburgh, PA.

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