Sunday, March 24, 2019

To Follow is to Lead

If you think you’re leading, and no one is following you, then you’re only taking a walk.” - Afghan Proverb

If we follow someone that person is a leader then right? We are all meant to believe that the role of a leader is to empower others to follow to create and sustain successful systems.  In many ways, I am not here to challenge this notion. This notion has been ingrained in our minds since the beginning of time.  I am sure we all remember the age-old saying “follow the leader.” What is important to consider is why do we choose to follow others and how does that impact our own ability to get others to follow us when there is a shared belief in a cause, vision, or mission? 

Throughout time the most impactful leaders across an array of organizations and roles have compelled others to change through a variety of actions. Leadership is about action, not title, position, or power. However, the type of actions we take can determine the willingness of others to follow and help support change. These actions can be broken down into two main categories: directive or empowering. There is a considerable difference here with the former eliciting more of a forced behavior while the latter compels people to embrace the role of follower.  The role of leaders is not to tell others what to do, but to take them where they need to be.  

It is important to note that at one point or another every leader was once a follower.  Very few, if any, people were just anointed into a leadership position without first being motivated and inspired by someone else.  Gwen Moran provides a fascinating take on this point in an article titled 5 Ways Being a Good Follower Makes You a Better Leader:
Followers can “make or break” the leader influencing if and how goals are accomplished. Good followers support and aid the leader when he or she is doing the right thing and stand up to the leader–having the courage to let the leader know when he or she is doing something wrong or headed in the wrong direction. Being a good follower doesn’t make you a “sheep,” The truth is that most of us are in followership roles in our regular lives.
She goes on to discuss how being a follower provides the opportunity to develop specific skills that will make someone a better leader including awareness, diplomacy, courage, collaboration, and critical thinking. Outcomes are dispositions and competencies are some of the many qualities that are found in the best leaders of any organization. As I continue to reflect on this topic, I am reminded of one of the most impactful videos I have ever seen that illustrates how important the art of following Take a few minutes and watch “Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy” below.

The most important lesson here is that it was a lone nut as the first follower who transformed the shirtless dancing guy into a leader. Never underestimate the power of following. 

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