There’s nothing more annoying than a contrarian who revels in taking the opposing view just to get a rise out of people and feel important. But that’s very different from questioning the status quo and acting against it when you’ve got good reason to do so.

Cultural norms and societal trends are among the most powerful forces in nature. And yes, they are forces of nature. They stem from a survival imperative – strength and safety in numbers – inherent in all social animals and reinforced by the brain’s ancient limbic system.

Think about it. What’s the worst thing that can happen to a pack animal in a land full of vicious predators? Being ostracized from the group and becoming part of the food chain, of course. That’s as true of humans today as it was of our cave-dwelling ancestors millions of years ago. That fear lives in us to this day.

That survival instinct results in all sorts of common behavior, from an innocuous thing like going along with the crowd to keep the peace, to the insidious act of keeping your mouth shut or actively covering up the truth when observing criminal behavior, and everything in between.

It might surprise you to learn that social media and the blogosphere are perhaps the most powerful purveyors of groupthink in human history, responsible for creating and perpetuating everything from popular cultural norms to all sorts of loony crazes and viral fads.

real-leaders-dont-follow It takes personal strength and courage to fight those instincts, question “crowd” wisdom, think differently, and break from the status quo. But that’s what all true leaders do. All successful entrepreneurs, as well. You can live your life however you like, but there are great rewards in taking the road less travelled.

If you happened to read it, you’ll recognize that as the key message of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur. Leaders lead. Followers follow. You can’t do both.

Image credit Glen Malley Flickr