Lead and Follow

“You cannot be a leader, and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too.”

Sam Rayburn (January 6, 1882 – November 16, 1961)  was a former U.S. House Speaker for 17 years, the longest in U.S. history.

Lead and Follow 2014-11-04

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_birds#mediaviewer/File:Cygnus_buccinator_-Riverlands_Migratory_Bird_Sanctuary,_Missouri,_USA_-flying-8.jpg

Are you a leader?

A popular theme in leadership blogs is that being a manager does not a leader make. Most thought leaders seem to agree that responsibility does not intrinsically make you or me good leaders. What if I told you, though, that you are always some sort of leader, whether good, bad, or somewhere in between? What if, by virtue of office or unintentional influence, you were always leading some people somewhere?

A head of state will influence a people toward poverty and destruction, or peace and prosperity. Consider the leadership of parents: Whether good or bad parents, they are always leading their children into patterns of thought and behavior. This principle is no less true in a professional context.

Who are you following?

The question is not, “Are you a leader?” as much as it is, “What kind of leader do you want to be, and how do you intend to get there?” Allow me to suggest that (good) leadership = servanthood + vision.

“Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” – Jesus of Nazareth

Though culture often heralds glory and power as hallmarks of leadership and success, leadership is not an end in itself; it is the privilege to inspire others to move from where they are now, to some better state. This commonly comes without pomp and circumstance.  The lives of Dr. Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi attest to this.

Operating under the assumption that we are all leaders of some sort, and that we desire to grow in intentional service and influence of others, let’s reclaim three rhythms of personal and professional development:

1. Become an apprentice.

A tender shoot often needs a stake in the ground so it doesn’t fall down or snap in the wind. Seek a leader of skill, humility and integrity above popularity. This may be a tricky fish to catch, so be ready to cast your line in a different pond.

The very act of seeking an unsung hero will take humility by requiring us to verbally express a desire to learn from him or her, listen to that person before we speak or “humble-brag,” and consider how our character and skills can improve. There is always room for character improvement and always someone who does something better than us.

2. Ask questions that challenge you.

Apprenticeship is not a covert interview for your next position. It should make you uncomfortable as you realize the areas in which you need work, yet leave you feeling supported by receiving guidance on how to move in the right direction. Good questions come easily once we are vulnerable to confess what we don’t know and ask for guidance.

How do I balance work and family? How do I practice integrity when faced with a compromising situation? How can I foster healthy competition amongst my team without risking people’s dignity?

3. Practice.

To produce different results, we must do things differently. Observe better practices, humbly consider suggestions, weigh them for truth and wisdom, and then take some risks. If your pride chides against you, fake it ’til you make it. New behaviors will eventually feel like a fit.

If we choose good leaders and follow well over time, we can have better assurance that we will lead well. Choose your leaders wisely and make an intentional commitment to observe, ask, disclose, emulate, and evaluate progress.

Humility leads to new learning, which will influence the way you serve others. It will result in a better you, and the right kind of people will follow.

What kind of qualities do you look for in a leader? Please share!

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Jonathan Gornick
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