Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Leadership, followership, and get out of the wayship

When I was in college, I saw a poster that said, "Lead, Follow, or Get out of the Way." Over the years, I've done all of those.

Back then, I thought of myself as a leader. Since then, I have sometimes chosen to be a follower. Most of the time I just want to get out of the way. There are times when each of us will take these roles, depending on our situation, the people around us, and our choices.

I believe that sometimes a person has to decide to just Follow a Leader, within the bounds of morality, ethics, reason, and safety. You may pick your leader because of that person's knowledge, experience, and wisdom, or you may pick that person because you need a job. You shouldn't do anything that is not moral, etc., but sometimes you may have to do something that is tedious, silly, or a waste of time, because you have decided to follow the leader and you are working on the assumption the leader knows something you don't know. Even if it's where the payroll checks are.

I am not a great follower, which has made me a not so hot employee or student at times. I am hard working, skilled, knowledgeable; but sometimes I'm a pain in the patootie, bordering on insubordinate. I have learned that this is not only bad for me, it is bad for the job, the class or organization.

Being a not so hot follower has made it hard for me to be a great leader. It is hard for me to expect others to follow. I don't want to make decisions, I want to consult and communicate and carry one until everyone agrees or until Hell freezes over, which usually comes first.

Guess what? Sometimes a leader has to lead.

I learned this as a parent fairly early. Little kids need a parent to provide safe, orderly structure in order to feel safe exploring the world. They know you have their back. They know you won't let them go too far, so they can try to see what too far is. They know that if they fall, you will help them up. They don't want to discuss their options. They don't you to be more afraid than they are. They want you to lead.

Even adults want to feel safe so that they can explore and grow. I want to work in an office where the boss knows what the goals, standards of behavior, and expectations are, and expresses them clearly and consistently. I want to have some input in forming and freedom in how to meet these goals and expectations, but I want to know what's going on. I want to be safe so that I can do my job and not worry about whether the light bill will by paid.

A good leader leads, confidently setting up a framework in which each good follower can do his or her best work, so that the mutually defined goals of the organization can be met. How does that sound?

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