The blurred line between leadership and following

The best leaders know how to follow, and the best followers should take charge from time to time, says blogger Stuart Pearcey, who believes leadership comes from a collective consciousness of wanting to do well, and achieving that by bringing particular skills to the party.

Anyone who defines themselves as a leader or a follower isn’t doing themselves justice – because no-one is entirely either.

There needs to be a touch of the chameleon about everyone, because there are times when leaders must be followers, and followers must lead, dictated, as in the case of the chameleon’s changing colour, by circumstances and surroundings.

It’s all about the circumstances of the task, and the recognition that people have strengths in different areas.

Team workWhen people are aware of the differing skills in the group, they are able to co-operate, meaning they can accomplish the task more effectively – unlike the men repairing a nearby roof visible from my office window today. There are four of them, and I’d guess they all know what needs to be done. But all day no-one appears to have been in charge, as a result of which they’ve got in each other’s way, misplaced tools, and argued about who’s supposed to be doing what; odd, when this is what they do for a living every day…

Setting aside the roof repairers, there is no doubt that groups have a tendency to select a leader; there’s safety in being part of a group of followers, happy to be excused the responsibility of making decisions.

But true leadership is not about knowing everything. It’s about being able to see the group objective, and being able to get everyone else to pool knowledge and resources to see that it’s achieved.

It may well be that the leader has none of the skills obviously necessary to accomplish a task. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that the group around him (or her; the best boss I ever had was a woman) contains those skills. The leader’s unique contribution is in knowing how to bring those skills together harmoniously. It’s about knowing how to make people want to do things, and to work together for mutual benefit. It’s about knowing how to step back and let someone else be in charge at some point. It’s about letting people think for themselves, rather than doing their thinking for them.

And from the follower’s point of view, there will be times when they’re in charge or a particular facet of the project; given a particular responsibility important to the overall picture, and be happy in that. They’ll be working within their comfort zone for everyone’s benefit.

So do you lead, or do you follow? I hope you do both as the situation demands. After all, no-one likes a leader with a dictatorial approach that can take them down the wrong path, and no-one should ever believe they have nothing to offer. Leadership is like life; best taken with a degree of compromise.