Of Chiefs and Cooks

Dianne St. Jean
Of Chiefs and Cooks

Most if not all of us have heard the old sayings: ‘There are too many chiefs’ and ‘Too many cooks spoil the soup’.

Their meaning is that, in the first case, there are too many people trying to be the leaders in a situation and not enough ‘hands on’ help. In the second case, there are too many ‘hands in the pot’ and not enough order or organized leadership.

A teaching or attitude that is being promoted in this day and age is that, not only can everyone be a leader, but that everyone is a leader.

I beg to differ.

I believe that, while there is some degree of flexibility, there is an order to life in which certain fundamental dynamics operate; and, within that order, there are both leaders and helpers.

Some may prefer to use the word ‘followers’ instead of ‘helpers’ but it all comes down to the same thing. Either way, the connotation of both words is sometimes misunderstood to mean someone who is inferior in relation to a leader.

A follower, though, is not someone who is simply a minion, who has no brains, independent thoughts or ideas of their own, or individual value. Nor is a helper inferior to an organizer. The words simply mean someone who takes care of the practicalities but is not the original instigator or organizer – aka leader. They don’t create the design, they follow its pattern or specifications. They are the ones who bring the vision to life.

A leader, on the other hand, is the one who instigates, organizes and oversees its operations. Just as someone may be a good worker, helper, or follower – whatever word you choose to use – but is not good at original design or fundamentals of operations, a leader has the vision of what they want to see accomplished, but more often than not does not or cannot carry out every single task necessary to see it accomplished.

We see that example clearly in nature. Most species operate within an order that contains both leadership, and those that follow their lead.

Sometimes the leader is male, sometimes female. Gender is not the point, but rather the relevance of the role, especially to the survival of the entire group. Nor can the group survive without the input of the followers, workers, or helpers.

This is where, in my judgment, I think there is a danger in teaching young people that they are all leaders.

While some leadership skills can be developed to a certain degree, I believe that individuals are born with basic skills and talents; some of which enable a person to lead, while others excel more in a ‘hands-on’ approach.

That being said, both qualities have their strengths and weaknesses.

While those with leadership skills may have a natural talent for seeing how things can be done, their weakness may be a tendency to be domineering and selfish, even self-centered.

And while the natural follower or helper, once set upon a task, can be the most reliable worker or employee, there is a danger of being too passive or lazy when it comes to taking initiative. In balance, however, they make a fine team, and everyone benefits.

Our modern-day efforts to make everyone in society feel that they have value should not mean trying to make them be or do something they are or cannot be. If anything, we just make them more frustrated.

Rather, we should be focusing on encouraging each other to build on our natural strengths, whatever those may be.