How to Transform from a Follower into a Leader
When the group needs someone to see around the corner, to find the way on an uncertain path, they need a person to lean forward into the less known. That person is brave enough to look, humble enough to realise they may not yet know, and diligent enough to work hard to find the answer everyone needs. At that time, the person who has leaned forward and found the way, fought for a path through the uncertainty. They will be the leader, and the group will follow.
Here’s the thing about leadership — it doesn’t really exist, well persist really, it is transient.
You’re like “wait, what?”.
The business adage; If you cannot measure it, it doesn’t exist. Well, leadership is nigh on impossible to measure. It is almost completely intangible.
You can only really measure followership (engagement numbers, their impact, etc.). Therefore, it is only followers and workers that exist all the time. And since leadership does not persist, then leadership can only ever be momentary, and every moment is a re-examination.
What do you mean, be pointy?
There are plenty of books out there about the rise of the generalist. David Epstien in his book ‘Range: Why Generalists triumph in a Specialist World’ espouses having broad interests and knowledge is more important than real depth of knowledge.
I am talking about being opposite to this, but only in a micro way. I am talking about the fact that if leadership is momentary, then it is dependent on whether you have followers at that point in time. You cannot measure a leader, but by their followers.
You get followers at that moment by having a piece of information or clarity on a situation, that others do not. Then you can be effective and motivational in how you communicate it.
That. Is. It.
So, what I mean about being pointy when and where you need to be, is having that information, or connecting related information to form a new idea and propose a new direction.
To do this, you only need to be a little in front of everyone else in one area. Just one area. The pointy people look around the corner first, so the others don’t need to, then let everyone know what they have seen.
The pointy people look around the corner first.
The key to being pointy though, is connecting information. Leaders let the ideas bubble around in their mind, collide with each other, and create new ideas. I’ll get back to this in a bit.
The best leaders see the capability of their team, and work to allow them to get information they don’t yet have.
They then let them lead their way through the problems presented to them. Assisting them where they need. If this happens enough, then each and every problem the team faces, they can lead themselves through. You create pointy teams.
The members of the team then become pointy enough in each area to navigate the problem and have enough trust and connection within the team to move everyone together. In this way, they each grow as leaders.
So how do you get pointy?
I mentioned earlier, that you need to connect ideas, you need to spend time purposefully letting ideas percolate and getting new information. Just enough new information or new ideas to allow you to nudge in front of everyone else.
You can get that through deep work. My article on it resonated with some of you, Cal Newport believes, as do I, that Focus in the new IQ. In this case, situational leaders need to spend time doing work that is important, but not urgent. Focusing singularly on a problem or a body of information.
You need unbroken, non-distracted think time.
I mentioned in the article the four steps to increased productivity, knowledge and higher quality work; they are,
- Create your own deadline; It’s important that you understand that you set the deadlines for Deep Work. If you set the deadlines, you then set the schedule. You need to block out time, large chunks to allow your mind to get deep into a problem or new information.
- Allow the problem to percolate; You need to plan, and you need an unfinished list. Let the problem mull over in your mind. An unfinished list will bubble away in your sub-conscious.
- Set the Scene; You need to find your flow state, find your flow triggers. I’ve worked out mine. But the most important thing is that you remove distraction, at least reduce. The old ‘author at the lake house’ is quintessential deep work.
- Finalise the Session. When you are in deep work you will lose track of time. When you reach the end of your blocked out time, you need to finalise the session and plan for the next one.
So, if this is how you really learn and be productive. How do you get new and novel ideas?
You take in information, let your current ideas mingle with that new information until they bump into each other and form new ideas. Your ideas mingle, then get together, and create newly formed ideas. Sound familiar?
Your ideas have sex. Yep, Idea Sex.
James Altucher promoted the term in his Blog in 2012, but many have used it since. I must admit, it took me back when I first heard it, but it is true. The most famous inventions and ideas are mostly plagiarism and a dash of creativity. The creativity comes in the joining of the ideas.
James, in this article, refers to a historical gap in the market that related to boys and dolls. He writes that Stan Weston realised that Boys had no Dolls, but boys loved pretending to play with Guns.
So, he proposed an Action Boy Doll with Guns to Hasbro and they called it G.I. Joe. Dolls + Action — their baby was G.I. Joe. The creativity came in the identification, and then the joining of ideas.
Steve Jobs was the same. Mobile Phones and MP3 players existed at the same time, but portable entertainment was very linear. Steve saw an opportunity to meld to related fields together, but did it with a simplistic elegance that has made the iPhone so popular.
You need to create space to let your ideas do the same.
Imagine a really crowded party where no one gets time to mingle, they race pass each other, busy on the way to the next thing. This party is not very much fun.
If these are your ideas, no one is mingling and creating connections — no idea babies…
Are you a pointy follower?
If you want to be the leader when you need it, you need to find your points.
What is it that you are uniquely suited to do?
Find that niche and work hard to add some knowledge and ideas in how it applies to your role.
If you do, then when the team needs you, you can look around the corner and let them know what you see.
You can then lead them around the corner to the next problem. If you do, then the next person in the team can look around the next corner they are uniquely suited to…
You may be individually pointy, but collectively you can solve any problem.
The leaders, those that you consciously choose to follow, spend time working out what the shape of the next corner might be. Then purposefully trying to connect the ideas that will help the team. They try and look around the corner.
My challenge to you — work out how you can look around the corner. Work out what type of pointy you need to be. You can get there with knew knowledge gained through deep work, and then letting your ideas have time and space to mingle (idea sexy time).
Stay safe and keep smiling,
I’m a new writer with a keen curiosity for people, human nature, leadership and growth. Originally published here.