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Lead or Follow? Both!

Digitally Vicarious
Mar 3 · 5 min read
Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

One doesn’t have to look far to see the perceived division between leaders and followers. Motivational posters, overly-hyped and overpaid event speakers, social media memes, and even our expressions force us to decide if we are leaders or followers.

We think we must be one or the other, biased heavily towards being a leader with negative views of followers.

Here are a few things I’ve figured out and the rest? Well, I’m still learning as I go.

  1. What works for one does not always work for another. Like many, I have read countless books, attended many seminars, and listened to numerous bombastic speakers on leadership and what makes a great leader. There is no substitute for experience gained through trial and error, coupled with a willingness to learn. Be a sponge and take everything on board, but be a filter and select what is relevant. Don’t cast aside something that works; refine, not replace.
  2. Titles don’t make leaders; attitudes do. Just having the title of “Manager”, “Coordinator”, “Director”, “Leader” does not automatically make someone a leader. Their ability to engage people to drive results and willingness to take responsibilities, ideas and suggestions on board. I’ve always been of the mind that you must understand that which you are leading to lead. Far too many times, I’ve encountered dictators and managers who preferred to delegate and then take credit. Most of all, no matter how much you lead, always be willing to follow.
  3. Personally invest yourself. A job is what you do for someone else; a career is what you do for yourself. We think that we get out of life what we put in, but I don’t believe that is entirely true. Why would we invest in something if we don’t stand to gain something? Rather than a negative or equal return, we look for positive returns. Bonuses, new skills, more experienced, and a feeling of personal satisfaction are just some of the things we gain by personally investing in ourselves.
  4. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Sending your team on courses, seminars and inviting those to after-hours events may look like participation, but they’re like the proverbial horse without a thirst unless they’re engaged. Please give them a reason on a personal level to get involved. If your team achieves a reward on some level, ultimately, the organisation that rewards them receives recognition as well.
  5. Communicate with people, not with technology. Put down the phone, step away from the keyboard, and put away your tablet and smartphone. Get up from your desk and venture into the wild and interface with actual, live people. I know they can be scary, but thousands of years of face-to-face interaction existed long before electronics. It just works.
  6. “Open door _____day”. At one point, I used to block out my calendar on Friday mornings until noon deliberately to give anyone the chance to come and speak with me, alone or in groups, about anything and everything, personal or work-related. To be a good leader, one has to listen to and consider anything put forward by followers freely. Some of the best ideas can come about this way. I need my team to understand I’m acting in my own or the executives’ best interests and theirs. Gary Vaynerchuk puts it very well when he insists that he works for his employees and not the other way around.
  7. Learn not just from positive examples but from all instances. Many methods seem to focus almost entirely on the positive aspects yet negate the rest, neutral or negative. I want to think that I have shared many positive traits with others over time, and whether I was aware or not. Equally, I want to believe my negative features were taken on board and served as a lesson; it’s how I have learned from others. Sometimes it is not so much about what to do, but what not to do instead.
  8. Have difficult conversations. Many people are non-confrontational and will approve or avoid when placed in an uncomfortable situation. You are there because that situation needs to be dealt with or at the very least addressed lest it continues unchecked.
  9. Recognise that not everyone is going to like you and be OK with it. How someone feels about you is more a reflection of how people think of themselves. You can try to understand and try to help, but they must help themselves in the end. Setting aside your differences to accomplish a common goal is professionalism. If you can’t, refer to point number 8 above.
  10. Be of two minds. I prefer to think as both teacher and student, master and apprentice. As we learn from one, we impart that knowledge to another and the cycle continues. We never stop learning, and we never stop teaching whether we’re aware of it or not.
  11. Bonus Point! The best lessons in life come from those who were oblivious to the free knowledge they were sharing. Some examples are an arrogant businessman in a café, school children helping an older person when they fell, a sales assistant smiling for every customer, and a boss yelling every word he spoke. We also learn from a car dealer that would leave you a car while they took yours in for service, and even a teacher always late for class. From every one of those examples and thousands more, I was a follower, but the lessons developed my leadership skills even further.

Some days you need to act like the Penguins in the movie “Madagascar”: “Just smile and wave, boys, just smile and wave.” It may not get more comfortable, but it always gets better.

Stay safe out there.

Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions presented on this blog are my own and not those of any associated third party. The content is provided for general information, educational, and entertainment purposes and does not constitute legal advice or recommendations; do not rely upon it as such. Obtain appropriate legal advice in actual situations. All images, unless otherwise credited, are licensed through Shutterstock.

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