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The Hazards of Leadership. This photo is from a Nashville police site describing their efforts to cut down on extremely dangerous driving - a valid effort if you've ever driven through or around Music City on the highways.  Click to see that article Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running wellGarden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading
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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden TrainsTM

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The Hazards of Leadership, Part 1

I try not to get caught speeding. But sometimes I get into the left lane to pass someone. And as often as not, as soon as I get over, I see someone riding my bumper. If I'm not careful, I can let the tailgater's obnoxious behavior cause me to speed up more than I really should.

I used to think that the tailgater was probably "flying" and caught up with me just as I was making my relatively conservative "move." But then I noticed that, as often as not, when I get back over, the tailgater slows down and paces me or even slides into the lane behind me. When a third vehicle passes both of us, the tailgater moves out and tailgates that person until he gets over, then drops back to pace him.

The Principle of "Aggressive Following"

Finally I realized that (in radar-gun-saturated counties at least) there is a whole class of "aggressive followers" - drivers who will go as fast as they can, as long as someone else comes over the hill or around the curve into the next speed trap first. And they'll even pressure the other drivers to take risks they won't take themselves.

Aggressive followers are not just a problem on the highways, they're a problem in almost any human endeavor. Long ago I learned the hard way that, in many organizations, the people who don't want to "take point" have no problem encouraging other people to take risks or make commitments they won't make themselves - then second-guessing or jockeying for power "behind the scenes."

Click to learn more about early Peanuts paperbacks. You'll have to guess why I think this book title relates.

How does that relate to the hobby of garden railroading? Well, not so much. The vast majority of folks I've met and worked with over the years have been very supportive of anyone's efforts to grow the hobby.

But the principle of "aggressive following" relates at least somewhat to the "business" of providing information about garden railroading. (Family Garden TrainsTM is a business because the IRS says so, even though we "give away" almost everything we produce - information - and we barely pay our operating expenses most of the time.) Every so often someone else in the same "business" reminds me that having a good idea first isn't enough to keep us "out front," especially when we're competing with folks who have much more resources than we do.

Still there is a difference between ethical and unethical "following."

"Borrowing" Good Ideas Ethically

Here's a recent example of "ethical" following: For years, we've given free access to many good articles for beginning garden railroaders, because we felt it was silly to charge folks for information that would help them decide to get into a hobby we were trying to grow. This especially applied to "core" subjects, the 20% of information that 80% of beginning garden railroaders need to know. We also felt that making important information easy to acess when people needed it (i.e., online) was far more helpful than having the same information available only in back issues of a magazine or out-of-print books.

Earlier this year, we learned that Kalmbach, the company that publishes Garden Railways magazine, is showing signs of agreeing with us. Their e-mail newsletter has announced that they are making a large backlog of their articles available online. No this access isn't exactly free to the general public, but it's free to subscribers of a magazine we tell all of our readers to subscribe to, anyway.

I am hoping that this collection eventually includes their "core" articles (the 20% of information that 80% of garden railroaders will need to know). If it does, the benefit to the hobby will be enormous. Garden Railways' founder, editors, and regular contributors have given sacrificially to establish, grow, and sustain the hobby as we know it. The ground-breaking materials they created will benefit everyone interested in garden railroading, from the beginner to the "expert."

On one hand, I should probably be worried that Family Garden TrainsTM could be "obsolete" if the internet is suddenly flooded with many good articles on the same or similar subjects. But I'm not, because the hobby is more important to me than writing about the hobby, and this could be very good for the hobby if Kalmbach does it right.

And as long as Family Garden TrainsTM articles are completely free (another good idea Kalmbach is welcome to "borrow"), many new people looking for information before they commit to a purchase or subscription will continue to "read it here first," anyway. Plus, we sometimes publish methods or points of view that do not reach the pages of GR, simply because of personal preferences or experiences of the editorial staff. GR's founder and lead editor, Marc Horovitz and I have been "agreeing to disagree agreeably" over several points since the mid-1980s, and I hope to continue offering a continual, friendly flow of alternative perspectives.

So, as a concerned hobbyist and supporter of our site, what can you do? The answer is: take advantage of Kalmbach's new-found generosity and learn as much as you can while they're being so generous. If you don't already subscribe to GR, subscribe now. I've put a box at the left column you can use to subscribe online through Amazon if you want to. (They used to advertise on my site directly, but they pulled their advertising a few weeks before they announced their own new internet features - a total concidence, I'm sure.)

But at the same time, please remember the folks who got you into the hobby and kept you informed when you were trying to learn everything at the same time. If online resources like Family Garden TrainsTM eventually fade away, there will be less reason for other resources to continue being quite so generous, and fewer alternative sources of ideas for methods and projects.

So one of the "hazards" of leadership is that someone else may have the resources or talent to borrow your idea (ethically) and do it better than you do. In this case, I don't mind Kalmbach opening their "vault," but I plan to keep Family Garden TrainsTM and its related sites online to keep reaching the people that we are better at reaching. And if that motivates other "information providers" to keep improving the quality and usefulness of their services, so much the better.

"Borrowing" Good Ideas Unethically

Unfortunately another kind of "following" is more toxic - "aggressive followers" who copy anything we do that seems to be working, not to build the hobby, but to "take over our space," if possible. You don't really want to hear a twelve-year history of folks unfairly "borrowing" our ideas, trademarks, and content in ways that range from unethical and illegal to just plain childish and silly - except to say that it is still going on, and the fact that I don't say more about it more often doesn't mean I haven't noticed.

Of course this happens in just about any creative environment. As a professional writer, I've proposed many articles, stories, plays, and other creative ideas, only to have the person I proposed to say, "Thanks for showing me this, but I can't use your proposal because I have just come up with the greatest idea for a project, so I won't have time to help you with yours." Usually nothing comes of this, but at least twice, after a reasonable delay, my ideas have come out, slightly reworked, with someone else's name at the top of the page. Other folks I know have had much worse experiences along similar lines. Such experiences convince me that in many so-called creative areas, originality is even rarer than honesty, and that's rare enough.

Back to our informational web sites, I have taken steps to slow the rate of certain kinds of copycat behavior and copyright and trademark violations. Unfortunately, some of those steps have slowed the rate at which new material and updates appear on our pages, but that's part of the equation, as far as I can figure out. Again, any way you can support the hobby by supporting our site will help us out and help more new projects to be published sooner.

Click to see some ways you can help us build the hobby.I have also avoided ANYTHING that could lay us open to charges of being copycats ourselves - I even dropped my subscription to GR when I learned they were planning a series of articles on the same topics I was working on. That may be why I was almost the last person in my circle to realize the scope of Kalmbach's new Internet projects. But that's okay - it helps me keep a broader perspective on the future of the hobby than if I was totally invested in Kalmbach's vision or stood to benefit in any way (except as a hobbyist) from their proposed new directions.


As hobbyists, you and I benefit from healthy, ethical "competition" among information sources, because we get more access to more and better information. On the other hand, "thought leaders" in any endeavor often take "hits" from people with less to share that is positive and more time to think up things that are negative or unfair.

The next time someone encourages you to second-guess, or worse yet, help cheat anyone who is working hard or "dodging bullets" on your behalf, think about how it must feel to receive that kind of "support."

I also hope these notes don't discourage you from taking the lead on some enterprise you think is important. The hobby needs new leaders for the next generation, and the generation after that.

Finally, I assure you, that when you take a leadership role, then look in the rear view mirror to see who is "riding your bumper," you won't see my face.

Best of luck, have a great spring and summer, enjoy your trains, and especially enjoy any time you have with your family this season.

Paul Race

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