Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Before we can lead, we must learn how to follow.


Have you ever been part of an organization or any kind of group where you just didn't jive with the leadership? It happens all the time. Maybe you have a different personality than the overseer. Or perhaps you have a dramatically contrasting opinion on how the the group should proceed.

"Following" comes very naturally for some people. For others, it can be a frustrating experience. Most people have probably been in both scenarios.

There are advantages to being a follower. As one who follows you don't have the ultimate responsibility for the outcome. Although it could be said that a follower definitely contributes to the outcome on some level. The level of contribution is often based on our response to the challenge given to us. Wouldn't it be great if followers saw themselves as sharing in the responsibility for the outcome? It would definitely make a difference in the direction, enthusiasm and end result. So much can be accomplished when the followers contribute rather than passively tag along.

As a follower you respond to the direction given by the leader. And that is very much a choice for someone in the follower position. You can rebel, be supportive, be apathetically compliant while silently annoyed, be an enthusiastic advocate, or creatively contribute new ideas to the cause in a non-threatening way. Sometimes we run into obstacles with leaders who don't want to consider other options. This is where the frustration can appear for a follower.

If you are in that situation, what are the various creative and positive options open to you? Think of as many as you can whether they seem realistic or not. Now narrow them down to your favorites and determine your first course of action. If you try something and it doesn't work, move on to some of the other options on your list.

Whatever your experience may be, following is a journey of learning. It's a walk down the path of "trial and error." As followers we can learn from the mistakes and flaws of imperfection of those in command. And we can take note of and even share in the triumphs and successes of their leadership. These observations become part of our leadership education. We sort through all of it and decide what we want to keep and use in the future and what we'd rather minimize or throw out.

It's essential to walk in those "follower" shoes before we step into leadership.

Photo: Daniel Wiedemann/123rf.com

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