“Lead, follow, or get out of the way,” were the words of U.S. General George Patton during World War II.
If you get out of the way, hopefully it’s only for a moment. Prepare to get back in; to lead or follow once again.
But don’t go home; that’s not an option.
When to Lead & When to Follow
It’s simple, really. If you’re the leader, you must lead. Sometimes, however, a leader must be the follower, too. For example, when you defer to another’s expertise – in the moment – it’s because it’s appropriate and the right thing to do. But ultimately, you lead, because that’s your role.
That means that even when you’re in the follower role, and if you’re the top dog, you’re still in charge. You manage while you follow.
If you get out of the way because it’s a calculated response, then you chose to get out of the way for a reason other than the flight response.
If you got out of the way due to the flight response, by retreating quickly, then it’s best not to repeat that again. Others will notice. The first time it happens, if you’re lucky, others will reserve judgment. If you make the mistake again your leadership role is compromised. You’re done and may not have any more credibility as a leader.
That loss of credibility can haunt you unless you eventually adapt and overcome, then prove yourself to those you turned tail on. That takes a while so it’s in your best interest not to turn tail to begin with, even if you’re scared as hell in the moment. You’re probably not the only one that’s fearful, as well.
Set Your Leadership Path
If you’ve deliberately set out on the path to be a leader, there’s no turning back. You made the choice, and now you must stick with it.
Keep your eyes and ears wide open. Keep an open mind. Actively listen and learn from those around you. Everyone has something to offer and if you pay attention, those offerings will make you a better leader.
When you follow others, but are still in your leadership role, you’re still learning to lead, compliments of their mentorship. Like a sponge, you absorb their lessons. You take it all in and filter out the nuggets, which you select and use as a leader. Eventually, those lessons learned become habit, and another effective tool in your leadership toolkit.
Time passes and you mature as an influencer. You’ve become a seasoned leader. You find yourself welcoming the opportunity to stand back and be the follower. You do that to provide the space for others to lead, to be where you once were, to grow their leadership skills that got you where you are now. You’re grooming the future and preparing them for success. You want others to be at least as good, or even better than you when the time comes. Often, that time comes sooner than we’d like or anticipate.
Learning to Lead
Learning to lead starts with knowing how to follow and if you’re fortunate, those you follow are good leaders. They have good people skills, they’re effective communicators, they know they’re stuff, and provide both a leader’s and follower’s perspective. They provide ample opportunities to be an effective follower, so that, when it comes time, you can be the effective leader.
When it’s your time to take the helm, good leaders and followers create leadership opportunities. They let you know that you’re ready to lead, then step back, and allow you to step up. They’re readily available to provide you with direct and immediate feedback each time you’re in charge. They’ll praise you in public, and correct or ‘tune you up’ in private. You are being groomed to be a leader.
Not everyone chooses this path. But you did. You want to guide other people. You know how to achieve goals and inspire others along the way. Your leadership skills enable you to understand and use the talents you’ve developed leading and following others.
You know how to effectively leverage your strengths and the strengths of your team to accomplish the mission. Every time, without fail.
Stay the Course
Most anyone can lead. Natural born leaders aren’t born that way; they aspire to be that way, and follow the path – and others – to achieve it.
Others may choose not to lead, or, perhaps, their leadership skills are limited.
But not you. You chose this journey. You kept your radar up, and maintained an open mind to learn from everyone. You led, even while you walked beside – or even behind – your team. Over time, and with lots of boots-on-the-ground experience, you once again follow so that others may step up, so that future leaders grow to replace you, exceeding the great things you did when you held that role.
Be a leader and help others do the same. Good leaders are often in short supply so pay it forward and create more so others may benefit. Lead on!