Sheepship: the opposite of leadership

February 2, 2019 by Joshua
in Blog

I met another NYU professor and talked to her about leadership. I told her how many people tell me they want to lead, but when opportunities arrive, they see risk, not opportunity, and fold.

Leadership opportunities almost always mean doing what hasn’t been done before, or what people don’t know how to do. If they did, they wouldn’t need a leader.

In the abstract, people want to lead. They want to take charge. They want admiration and trust.

In practice, they cave. They choose what they think will pay the bills. They jettison their passion.

They follow

There are a few related terms: leadership, followership, and teamwork, for example.

Schools say they teach leadership, but when they assign reading papers, writing papers, discussing case studies, and other socially and emotionally unchallenging work, they teach the opposite of leadership.

I said to the other professor, “There’s no term for what they teach, since leaders know to follow sometimes, but schools teach compliance. Nobody wants a life of compliance. Even fast food places and factories don’t want to hire just compliant people.

She crystalized what I said. She said, “The teach sheepship.” She surprised herself at stumbling on a catchy and meaningful word.

I’ve used it a lot since. Sheepship means following blindly, choosing not to think or act.

Most professors teach sheepship, as far as I can tell.

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