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Are You a Leader or a Follower?

January 12, 2020

Human beings perceive themselves as Planet Earth’s supreme beings.

Just look at what the human race has introduced to the world since the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s: the steam engine, electricity, the telephone, specialization of production, air transportation, efficiency in warfare killing, digital communication, smog, acid rain, and climate warming.

Not much to hang one’s hat on, is there?

Much of recent human (industrialized) history has been predicated on bosses, those with positional authority. Do what I say. Screw up, and you’re toast.

As human beings we’ve achieved a greater level of self-actualization especially since World War Two. Accelerated by the “Me” Baby Boom Generation (53-72 years of age), people have slowly asserted themselves. They want a say in the action–read today’s Generation Y. The gyrations of the labour market periodically slow this trend, in which individuals retrench as worker surplus exceeds employer demand.

The point is that people want to share in the leadership, whether it’s in the private, public or non-profit sectors.

This brings to mind the idea of what do non-management employees offer in the way of leadership?

To begin with, management is a position of appointment. Leadership is a completely different ball of wax. Leaders must earn a followership if they wish to be considered in the ranks of leadership. You may be a hot-shot vice president with 500 people under your command. But if your subordinates aren’t following you, I’m sorry to inform you but you’re NOT a leader.

I was in the work force for almost 40 years. I can count on both hands true managerial leaders I encountered, up to the ranks of CEO equivalents. However, I met and worked with dozens and dozens of true leaders who held no managerial appointment. I respected and trusted these people, and followed them.

Is that weird?

Tell me if I’m wrong. Should I have succumbed to the organizational eroticism of following only those in positions of managerial authority? As political activist Thomas Paine stated over two centuries ago: “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”

Take some time to reflect on your own leadership journey and experiences.

Which people have stood out in your career?

How many were in positions of management, and how many in regular employee positions?

Are YOU are a leader or a follower?

At many points in our lives we’re all followers, and we’re all leaders.

I recall listening to a CEO talking about leaders and public speaking. He nailed it when he spoke about how he saw his administrative assistant in his international firm as a key leader. And he followed her when he knew she had the knowledge and know-how.

How many CEOs can let go of their egos, however briefly, to let a subordinate–a non-managerial employee–take the lead on an issue?

One distinguishing trait of a real leader is having the ability to let go of one’s ego and self-perceived brilliance to let others show the way.

Have you encountered people like this?

Take a moment to share your story.

Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.
– Theodore Roosevelt

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