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Journal

Lead or Follow, is there another choice?

Mark Junkans

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I just read an article by author Scott Berkun titled "Why You Must Lead Or Follow."  In the article he basically sets up the argument for a complete dichotamy between leaders and followers, and makes the case that an individual has to either be one or the other in any given situation.  

The author writes, "as a rule of thumb, if you’re not sure what you’re doing, you’re following."  

One of the most frustrating things I've experienced in a group is what I would call the Headless Leader.  For example, I've been invited to be part of think tanks and task forces where the individual that called the meeting and was seen as the leader of the group didn't lead.  

Instead of leading, the individual basically let the group "run itself."  What happened is that most everyone became frustrated because nobody was leading the agenda, discussion or even the leading decision-making process.  Naturally, the "alphas" in the room looked around wondering who was going to take charge.  It is always interesting notice the facial expressions and the nonverbal "are you going to take the lead or should I?"

In almost every group situation or project, people immediately ask themselves "who's leading this?"  If nobody is leading, then some people naturally begin to take charge while others naturally wait.  This doesn't mean that those who try to lead are the most natural leaders or the most ideal ones.

I've noticed that the strongest leader in a group is usually the one who patiently waits his/her time to decide if it's worth exerting effort or expending "leadership capital."  The mature and confident leader is able to allow others in the group to lead, even if they themselves could do it better.  They typically reserve exerting their leadership for those situations that warrant it.  

The immature and insecure leader is the one who feels the need to jockey for position in every situation.  They are the ones who tend to talk the loudest and the most, thus most people in the group see them as the natural leader.  It's interesting to watch group dynamics and see two or more of these "leaders" try to run things, or wrestle control in every situation.  They mistake ambition and self-confidence for leadership.

Here is a quote from the article that I really appreciated.

To be a leader means that you shape your opinions and decisions around the greater good for the project you are responsible for. This requires sacrificing your own interests and wants in favor of the needs of the project, and the people that work on it.

A true leader is able to put the greater good in front of her personal 

To be a successful leader means directing your energy in ways that creates the greatest possibility of success for everyone that works with or for you. Good leaders go beyond their own resources and cultivate positive power from others.

Lead of Follow?

Lately, I've tried to find new ways to lead without taking the lead.  It's difficult for me, but I try to ask myself these questions before putting my hat in the ring.

  • Is this something that fits my areas of passion, calling and expertise?
  • Do I have the time and energy to truly lead this well?
  • Is there a way I could mentor a new leader to lead this, thus allowing him/her to gain experience in the process?
  • Who would do a better job at leading this?

Perhaps there is a way to lead and follow at the same time.  What do you think?