One of the most effective things a leader can do… is to follow.
There’s no shortage of opinions on the most valuable leadership traits or the best leadership styles. We’ve come to think of leaders only in their capacity to lead. Yet there are many times when the most powerful thing a leader can do is to follow.
A great leader understands that tapping into the full potential of their team members is the only way to achieve all that the organization is capable of. A clear and compelling vision helps to point team members in the right direction. Relevant goals, solid strategies, and effective systems and processes help team members achieve what is expected of them. But that’s just not enough.
We all bring our own unique set of skills, experiences, and methods for processing information. As a result, we each look at things a little differently. Sometimes…very differently. Creating an environment in which team members feel empowered (even expected) to think differently is key to tapping into potentially transformational ideas. And when it works…when team members show us a way that we hadn’t yet seen, we (as leaders) need to be ready to follow.
Too often we see leaders who grab hold of these ideas in a way that ends up limiting the full potential of both the idea and the team member.
Too often we see leaders who grab hold of these ideas in a way that ends up limiting the full potential of both the idea and the team member. Rather than taking over, leaders should invest time and energy in nurturing the idea and the individual. We should seek to understand, support, challenge…and follow.
Some of the accomplishments that I’ve most enjoyed being a part of were not my ideas and were not initiatives that I led. Some may have sprung from a seed that I planted, but what came from them was well beyond my initial vision. These ideas, and the passion behind them had the ability to propel the organization well beyond what I was asking of it.
In these situations I found myself shifting from leader to follower – providing more encouragement than direction. I listened, I learned, I challenged. When needed, I helped the individuals obtain the resources and support they needed to make their vision a reality. It was truly rewarding to watch these team members blossom as leaders. It was fun (and important) to follow.
I’m sure there were many more times that I should have followed. Ideally, we all keep learning and growing as individuals and leaders. I look forward to many more opportunities to learn, to grow and to follow.