3 Keys to Leadership: Want to Lead? First Learn to Follow
Countless books, blogs and seminars will tell you how to become a leader. Including this one. Some even claim to know secrets to fast tracking it. Not this one. Leadership is a fascinating topic. I am a lifelong student.
For ones with advice on fast tracking it, I have a feeling that their definition of leadership tends to lean toward career advancement; going after an impressive job title. While titles give good indication of someone with leadership qualities, not all who hold it, have earned it. The right to be called a leader.
If you have been around the block, you know in some cases, it is nepotism, cronyism, or to keep the top sales guy or gifted programmer from bailing. The impressive title or bigger paycheck acts as golden handcuffs.
But let’s stay on track. That’s management stuff. You want leadership secrets.
Want to lead? First learn to follow. You become a great leader by becoming a good follower.
I know. You are underwhelmed. You were expecting this Asian to come up with something profound like Mr. Miyagi’s “wax on, wax off” lesson for young Daniel. Anyone can follow, you say. Who needs special skills for that? Well, grasshopper, I beg to differ. Take a look at the following two scenarios:
A director rolls out a new “groundbreaking” initiative that didn’t get early buy-in. Very little formal communication or change management was introduced. His manager starts to field angry calls from powerful department heads demanding to know why the program was implemented. The manager (follower) comes under heavy attack while the director remains happily oblivious.
Follower 1: “Gee, I have no idea myself. I just caught wind of it today when the memo came out. I suggest you take it up with him.”
Follower 2: “I can appreciate your frustration. I’m just learning of the implementation as well. Apparently, my director’s under orders to have it implemented ASAP from senior people and didn’t have sufficient time to relay it to all the key people such as yourself. I may be able to answer your questions. Do you have time for us to go over them right now? If not, I’m happy to set up a call with you at a more convenient time.”
Which follower protected his leader’s brand?
Another unpopular idea was introduced by a new VP. As director, you are getting a lot of heat for something you have absolutely no say.
Follower 1: “There’s not much I can do. It’s our new management policy. I’m only following marching orders.”
Follower 2: “I understand this process is new to everyone, and I’m sorry you missed the communication that went out a week ago. Since you also missed the group training, I’m happy to train you personally, and before we get off the phone, I hope to address all your concerns. By the way, I appreciate you bringing this matter to my attention. I will make sure to pass your concerns on to Jim (VP). I know he is very much interested in any feedback on the user experience.”
Which follower is good at selling and polishing his leader’s brand? If you were the leader in these scenarios, which follower would you likely think of to promote? Which one would you likely see yourself mentoring to take your place? Which one do you see as a leader?
The clear answer here, of course, is the follower who’s not only looking out for number one. The clear leader here is number two.
Want to be a great leader? Be a good follower.
You do it by:
1. Polishing your leader’s brand
2. Protecting your leader’s brand
3. Selling your leader’s brand
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