November 30, 2009
Following The Leader
Don't get me wrong. We do need great leaders but maybe we need great followers even more.
Over the years, I've taken up leadership roles in a number of groups; often as a result of simply standing out like a sore thumb when others took a step back or being next in line when the baton was passed.
But I must admit, I enjoy playing the part of leader. In recent months, this has seen me taking centre stage more and more as I develop my speaking career and there's certainly a great buzz in leading the conversation in this way.
But I was struck at a recent showcase event, when I lined up with five of my fellow speakers to strut our stuff, at how important it is to have a great audience too, people who are prepared to follow your lead and make the experience an even more powerful one for us all.
I'm a member of a number of network groups too where it's hugely important for those on the back-benches to support those leading the group in simple, often overlooked ways, rather than vying to be the centre of attention.
So what happens when we fail as followers?
When I look at those who would lead our country, in particular those flailing about at the heads of our political parties, it seems to me that they couldn't be where they are and how they are without being egged on by a motley collection of spineless lackeys and cronies. A poverty of vision, ambition and integrity amongst those followers seems to lead to poor leadership: the bland leading the bland.
I've often used the example of geese in flight when taking or handing over charge of a group. You know the one: how geese in formation take turns to spearhead their unerring progress through the air to nesting or feeding grounds. And how they take turns too to be good followers. For if an individual goose breaks ranks without strong cause, then all is lost and they fall into disarray.
In my own business, I rely greatly on good customers, those who are willing to take my lead and head off into the unknown in search of a strong brand position. Without their active and critical support, I'd be powerless to lead them anywhere. They demand the best of me and the quality of their followership is vital to the success of our enterprise.
The more I think about it, wherever I look, it seems to me that our successes are down to inspired leaders and followers working in tandem. Equally, a crisis of leadership or followership leads to failure.
As followers, we need to both demand more of our leaders and demand more of ourselves. Sometimes even with the same breath, we need to be more critical and more supportive. Our society and our economy requires better backbenchers, voters and customers; ones who will demand only the best for us all.
There's no dodging this one: whether you're playing the role of leader or follower, you can't afford to settle for second-best.
Over To You: Where do you see examples of great leaders and followers setting the standards and demanding the best from one another?