Thursday, August 4, 2011

Are you a good follower?

As far back as I can remember, I was a fairly intense, passionate and determined person.

I remember my equally intense, passionate and determined brother telling me "take a chill pill, Laura." I assure you that coming from him, it was the kettle calling the pot black.

But, looking back, he was right, I did need to chill. I was actually more intense than him, if that was at all possible.

I didn't realize that my intensity had a lot to do with my strong desire to tackle challenges and succeed; wanting to drive things, all things, forward to where and how I wanted them.

After all, I liked getting results and I thought I knew what it took to get them.

My competitive intensity poured into my life on all fronts; academics, work, sports and travel. You could say that what charged me up more than anything was conquering life single-handedly, or at least trying to.

I was a full-fledged, self reliant, steam rolling woman on a mission to get results.Growing up in the '60's and '70's I had internalized a strong feminist message that I didn't really need anybody in order to succeed.

I believed that self-reliance was the key component to success. I saw that needing others or relying on others was considered a sign of weakness.

Being a follower was a dirty word.

When I entered the workforce, there were many bosses whose jobs I aspired to have. I always wanted to be in their shoes. I didn't want to follow them, I wanted to be them. I wanted to be the boss and to "lead."

"Lead, follow or get out of the way" for me was "Follow me and get out of the way". I was fortunate to have many bosses that did give me the freedom to excel and flourish. I think they understood the value in doing so especially because they saw me as a "go-getter".

Thank goodness for me and for them that they were effective leaders and didn't try to stand in my way or micro-manage me. And so I blossomed and grew into having more and more responsibility.

But as I gained more leadership responsibility, I started to see that the way I had excelled in the past wasn't getting me the results I needed in the future. That self-reliance at all costs, worked in the short run, but then it got in my way as it began to demotivate others around me. It became a liability.

Since I hadn't learned how to be a good follower, I was being hampered at becoming an effective leader.

But then I remembered an important lesson I had learned (and forgotten) about the importance of following others.

I drew back on my High School Field Hockey days and remembered my coach saying "when the team captain calls the play, you all must follow through. The team won't win if you all don't follow her lead."

You see the lesson about being a good follower is a lot like being a good leader, it doesn't really matter who scores the goal.

My coach got that. My bosses got that.

What matters most is the end result.

After all, being a leader and being a follower are two sides of the same coin. Sometimes you lead by following. And sometime you follow by leading.

You can't do one effectively without understanding the other. So, next time you think that being a follower is a dirty word, think again.

How well are you following?

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