Lead, Follow, AND Get Out of the Way

Motivational speakers, so called executive coaches, and I-got-fired-so-I’ll-call-myself-an-expert people always make leadership sound like the holy grail of success but it’s not.

The choice between managing and leading is a false choice because leaders manage and managers lead. You have to do both and sometimes neither. A good leader or manager or boss or CEO has to know when to lead, when to follow and when to get the hell out of the way.

What does it mean to be a leader? Does it mean you have all the answers? Does it mean that you give the orders and others do the work? Does it mean that you answer to no one? While there might be some (very little) truth in those statements, a leader must be versatile, adapt to each situation, and manage the circumstances differently when needed.

When things need to get done it is often said that you need to lead, follow or get out of the way. That sounds good but what a real leader does is all of those things — they lead, yes they follow, and they know when to get out of the way.

Lead

Sometimes your entire team will look to you for the answer, the one decision that only you can make. At those times you, as the leader, must take responsibility, steel yourself, and make the difficult decision. This is the reason you’ve worked hard, honed your skills, listened to your team, weighed the options, and are ready to decide. This is what most people think of when they think of a leader but it is only one aspect of what a real leader does.

Follow

As the leader you are ultimately responsible but you’ve also assembled a team of experts and there’s a reason you picked them. Not only should you give them room but you also need to follow their lead, listen to and learn from their interactions, their brainstorming, their good ideas. A leader who is willing to be led by their team is respecting their talents and their contributions. That respect will boost morale, show your confidence in the team and make for a better working environment. A true leader is able to put their own interests aside for the benefit of the project and the team. The leader is now just a member of the team, elevating one or more people to the role they usually hold.

Get Out of the Way

This one is hard. It may be difficult to see how it differs from following. This is a time when the leader, recognizing that their mere presence is a hindrance, must step away and put trust in their team that the work will be done. This is a real test of how you perceive your own leadership. If you have confidence in yourself you will also have confidence in your team.

Leaders don’t have all the answers, they aren’t dictators, and they recognize when they are a help and when they are not. I look forward to hearing your perspective, so leave a comment and start the conversation.