Lead by following. This may sound like a contradictory statement, but a good leader is also a good follower.
Some people may think that a leader is always the one out front, taking charge. No need to ask directions. No need to slow down. Definitely no need to have someone else lead, even if you’re tired.
Leading by following does not imply being passive or weak. This is probably the idea that many people have if/when they hear this. Here are several short points to think about regarding following:
1. You haven’t earned the right
“Been there, done that.” Maybe you got the t-shirt, too. When you have been a good follower, it adds tremendous weight to your leadership. Those that are following you may not have worked with you while you were a “follower”, but your actions can demonstrate that you can identify with them.
As a follower, you would like to know and understand the plan. You would like to know what is expected. You would like your leaders to be realistic in those expectations. If you, as a follower, would like those things, keep that in mind as a leader.
Note: Throwing out “I did it, so you should be able to do it” might make sense in your mind, but remember that not everyone has the same capabilities. Some people may need some of the steps tailored to them, helping them to become more productive and efficient.
2. Following involves learning
In this sense, you should always be a follower. A follower should be learning. Learning from their leaders. Learning from books, seminars, and other resources. Learning from each other.
In a leadership role, you still need to be learning. Despite what you may tell your kids, you don’t know everything. In fact, there are many things that you can learn from your kids. By the way, if you want to know how you act and what your say, just watch and listen to your kids – they tend to reflect what they see.
You can learn from those you are leading as well. Maybe you have a new team member – find out what you can learn from them. They have a different background. They’ve seen and experienced different things. They may have worked in a similar environment and may have some suggestions for improvements. They have fresh eyes, so they may be able to see some areas that don’t make sense.
If they ask, “Why do we do ____?”, try not to get offended. We all like to understand “why” we do something. If you can’t think of an answer, ask yourself if you need to continue that practice, change it, or drop it.
The higher you move up the proverbial ladder, the harder it may be to stay humble. You start to think that you really are somebody (this is where you beat your chest and swing on the vine). You forget that your own success is built on the work of others – your team.
In the Bible, it speaks about how King Saul was when he was first anointed:
“And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?”
Saul allowed pride to come in, and it clouded his judgment. It created jealousy, especially concerning David. It has a high cost.
Question: How can following help you to become a better leader?