July 25, 2012

If You Lead, I Will Follow

When I was a child, my friends and I used to play Follow the Leader.  One of us led, and the rest had to follow, doing everything that the leader did.  For this game to work, you could only have one leader, which might sound simple, but in the context of today's world, I don't think it's that obvious.

I teach several leadership development training courses, and one of the questions I always ask my trainees is:  "What's the one most important ingredient for a leader?"

People respond with various characteristics--communication, vision, drive, etc.  "Yes," I tell them, "those are important, but what one thing must you have to be a leader?"  Trainees rarely figure out the answer:  followers.

If no one is following, then you're not leading.

I bring this up today because I'm often struck by American society's focus on leadership. We teach our children to lead.  We ask questions about leadership when interveiwing potential employees.  Companies ask me to teach their employees to become leaders.  If everyone is leading, who is following?

No one person should always be the leader.  Each of us must be a follower at some point.  The very nature of leadership means that the one with the specific talents steps forward to lead at the right time.  When the situation requires different talents, someone else steps forward.  I don't think we teach people this, either to children or adults.  Is it any wonder, we get caught up in meetings or long discussions that go nowhere?  We strive to lead in order to show others that we have the umph it takes to belong.

Reminds me of that old saying, "Too many cooks in the kitchen..."

So, I leave you with this thought:

If you find yourself forcing your leadership in an area beyond your expertise, step back.  Allow the true leader to step forward and shine.  Your time will come.

As for my writing friends (since this is a writing blog), how do you portray this in your writing?  Do your characters jostle for leadership?  Do they have followers?  What kind of leadership culture have you created within the world of your story?

Now, I'm going to leave and follow someone ... probably a slow driver.

PS  I just noticed that this is my 100th post!  Cool!  I'll give a copy of Child of My Child: Poems and Stories for Grandparents  which includes my essay "Unexpected" to a random commenter living in the continental US. So, please add your comments below and celebrate post 100 with me!

12 comments:

LoryKC said...

What great ideas/reminders! It is interesting to watch how people (especially my children) respond in different situations.
My son, for example, is absolutely a follower. Follows his friends...even follows his sister if he thinks it'll earn him a little approval from her! ;-)
He recently earned his blackbelt in taekwondo. He wanted to be a part of the leadership program and I had my reservations but thought it couldn't hurt for him to try. Once he got in there and was EXPECTED to lead and teach, he did a fantastic job! Yet once he walked back out the door, he was a different kid again.
I myself am usually a follower but as a parent, that doesn't work out so well! ;-)

Barbara V. Evers said...

So true Lory! We must follow sometimes, and other times we should lead. Some people don't enjoy leading, but our culture pushes them to do it. I hater for people to think they're a failure if they don't become a leader. Of course, your son is following to learn from them. The question is whether he will use what he learns to lead later.

Henry Danis said...

Wow! #100. Congratulations on the commitment necessary to achieve this.

True a Leader must have followers, but I beg to disagree that Americans don't teach/instill leadership. Americans teach the art of critical thinking (or not to be ashamed to ask why).

Strong opinions can often be confused for leadership as can questioning authority. Sometimes it's down right stubborness.

I do agree that forcing leadership can be a bad thing.

I always describe leadership as ordering men to follow you into the face of the enemy and not having to look back to see if you're all by yourself. Inspire men and women to put themselves in harms way for the "greater good" (Okay sometimes that's questionable) and you on your way to being either a leader. If you have to point a gun at them and use threats - that a'int leadership.

Anonymous said...

So true. Without followers we have no leaders. And sometimes we have followers and don't even realize it. Children. They see all that we do, so we need to live lives worthy of being replicated by them.
Vickie Dailey

Barbara V. Evers said...

Henry, I believe that Americans DO instill leadership, but sometimes to the detriment of what the person needs. That's my point, not that we don't teach leadership, but that we put too much emphasis on it. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

As for critical thinking, I train that topic, too, and I'm often amazed at the lack of critical thinking skills among our adult workforce. I'm glad you see a lot of people with this crucial skill. I wish more people used critical thinking.

Barbara V. Evers said...

Vickie, Isn't it amazing how many people are watching us to see what we will do! Kind of frightening, if you think about it. None of us are perfect.

Barbara V. Evers said...

Keep the comments coming. I will select the winner of the book on July 31.

Vonda Skelton said...

Congratulations on your 100th blogpost! I'm so proud of you and all your hard work!

Wayne G. said...

Interesting Blog, and congratulations on your 100th Post. You finished by saying that you were going to follow someone...probably a slow driver. That raises an interesting leadership situation. Why is the slow driver always in front? Could it be that he (or she) can't keep up with the real leaders, but is willing to hold back those who follow? Wayne G.

Barbara V. Evers said...

Wayne, leave it to you to come up with that point on the slow driver. So often following them annoys us, so your insight is priceless. Thanks on the congrats!

Barbara V. Evers said...

Congratulations to LoryKC as winner of the book. I'll be in touch soon Lory.

LoryKC said...

WooHoo! Thanks so much, Barbara! Congratulations to you on your 100th post and thanks very much for the book! I can't wait to read it!