Real Leaders Know How to Follow

If you’re in a position of leadership, you may spend most of your time trying to manage other people. And while that’s a necessary part of being in charge, it isn’t the only way to get results in your organization. Real leaders know how to step out of leadership mode, and into roles of subservience. This may not come naturally, and it may not be immediately evident why that is a necessary discipline for you to be your best. It’s important because, without knowing how to follow, a leader is liable to become isolated from the people who follow his or her rules. Losing perspective is fatal to a leader. Everyone else in the organization is likely to know what the problem is, as it’s obvious just by looking at you. Without knowing how to follow, you can develop incredible blindspots.

If you are a leader who really must be “on” most of the time, it’s important to create situations where you follow. You could join the Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team Workshop or take a karate class (if that’s something you have no idea about how to do). Whatever you choose, see to it that the role you take is one where it’s necessary for you to listen and learn. People who have lost the ability to listen and learn are often terrible leaders. They make decisions which are not going to pay off. Without being sensitive to the needs and feelings of the people around you, you won’t be able to solve problems you create.

Another way to fight for perspective is to invite criticism. You may not want to open yourself up to comment from everybody in your organization at once, but then again, there are worse things that could happen. Many leaders use anonymous feedback systems to help understand their successes and failings. These can be bitter pills to swallow if you start to see common negative themes, especially if these play off your own insecurities. But for some leaders this is essential. Even if you don’t ask for feedback from everyone, make sure you have an open relationship with some people in your organization, people you empower to speak honestly about how you are doing in your role. These people cannot fear for their position if they tell you something that’s hard for you to hear.

Finally, it may help to put yourself in roles where you have to follow. Following takes practice. It shows you the mindset of the people who follow you on a daily basis. When you have to do things that another person tells you, it shows you the frustrations and joys of following someone else. You can take these insights and empathize better with the people who follow you.

It’s easy for leaders to lose perspective, taking actions and speaking words that undermine their authority and short-circuit their goals. Don’t let this happen to you. Learn to follow and you’ll be much better suited for the role you have, for many years to come.

Leadership in action.

Anne Lawson is a British writer who keeps her eye on business and trending issues that affect us all. She loves to delve into the real story and give us interesting tidbits we might otherwise miss.