In discussions of how leaders can be recognized, a short answer is frequently proposed that an observer can recognize leaders by the presence of followers. Describing a person as a follower seems to imply that the follower, to at least some degree, is willingly adhering to the direction of the would-be leader. In observing groups of many types during the past several months and years, a recurring question for me is whether willingness has anything to do with followership. Is it sufficient for one person to be described as a leader and another as a follower if the so-called follower is aligned with the vision or direction of the so-called leader and not necessarily with the person? If the presence of a follower helps define or identify the presence of a leader and the follower is pursuing a concept or ideal rather than the specific individual promoting that concept or ideal, is the person leading, or is, somehow, the concept or ideal really in the role of leader?
It seems possible that in political contexts we may be seeing people attaching themselves to visions, goals, ideals, or hopes and, so long as one or more individuals move in alignment with those concepts, the individual may be perceived as leading. The reality may be that the individual is not leading at all; rather the individual may be in a position of leadership as a result of ideological alignment, but, in some circumstances, ideology may triumph over the attempts at leadership by the individual.
If I can only lead people where they want to go, where they would be inclined to go with, or without, me, how can I legitimately consider myself a leader? Can anybody else legitimately assert that I am a leader if I am only followed because I happen to be moving in front of a mass of humanity who are simultaneously heading in my direction? What if I am more properly described as being pushed in the direction of the masses, I may be in front of the pack, but it would seem that I am not leading.
Somehow, I may only be able to consider myself a leader, within the contexts presented in the posting, if people are following me, even if they would not have gone there without me.