Be a Determined Follower

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To be considered a leader, one must first exemplify the intrinsic characteristics of a determined follower. To elucidate, I will point to my favorite short story: ­A Message to Garcia by Elbert Hubbard.

In the time of the Spanish-American War, Hubbard describes President McKinley’s pursuit to communicate with the leader of the Cuban Insurgents, Garcia. The only problem is that Garcia secluded himself deep in an unknown Cuban mountain range where he could not be reached by telegraph. In fact, nobody knew Garcia’s exact location, but McKinley was informed that if the Americans could get to Garcia first, it could be the turning point in the war.

Of course, McKinley himself could not venture deep into the jungle and mountains of Cuba during a time of war, so he called upon one of his loyal men, Major Rowan, to complete the task. Without hesitation Rowan took a letter from McKinley and set off to Cuba. After making a night drop off the coast, Rowan traversed the hostile country by foot. Three weeks later, Rowan appeared on the other side of the island, mission accomplished. He had delivered the message to Garcia.

Rowan never asked McKinley “where is Garcia?” or “how do I get to Cuba?” or “why me?” Instead, Rowan demonstrated an intrinsic characteristic that could not have been learned through a book or through instruction. Rowan portrayed an unwavering loyalty to McKinley, and a desire to “dirty his hands” while expending a great deal of energy without complaint, for the sake of the greater cause.

It is about being a part of something bigger than yourself. Rowan understood the circumstances and did what he was told. Simple as that.

We cannot expect everything in life to be offered up to us on a silver platter. We always seem to look for handouts and ways to make our lives easier. Instead, we should seek discomfort. Doing just one thing a day to make you a bit uncomfortable is enough to drastically change your life. Whether it is starting a new workout regimen, eating a new food, getting up a bit earlier, etc…

Now, more than ever, it should be evident that we must become masters of our own fate and captains of our souls. We need to take responsibility and understand that despite all the external milieu around us, we are always in control of our next actions.

I believe that this “yes sir/yes ma’am” mentality coupled with the drive to conduct independent actions rather than rely on others is what truly defines leadership. By having faith in your superiors and simply putting your head down and relentlessly working without question, you are setting an example for those who come after you. Regardless of your personal talents, if you fully buy into the mission and put everything you have into said mission, you will make a difference. Maybe you will never see the fruits of your labor, and for some that can sting a bit. But for those that truly understand what it means to be a determined follower, they will understand the concept of delayed gratification; that their actions in that instant may not give them an immediate reward, but that somewhere down the line the hard work will pay off.

The world needs more individuals who do the right thing when nobody is watching. The world needs more people like Rowan. Now I challenge you…are you willing to carry a message to Garcia?

Post-Baccalaureate research assistant in the Molecular and Clinical Nutrition Lab at the National Institutes of Health