Leaders Must Also Follow

                When we think of great leaders, we usually think about specific people – Martin Luther King Jr., John McCain, Lance Armstrong, etc. However, my thinking about this is that these leaders are the main person, but they never achieve greatness alone. This thought appears to be shared by many people, one of whom, Christine Zust from Zust + Co (training and facilitation consultants), wrote a paper about this point, The Best Leaders Know When To Follow.  I particularly liked her statement, “They were successful because they enabled others to achieve greatness and they allowed themselves to follow”.  What does that mean? It means that individuals in positions of leadership have a team working with them to achieve goals together.  When leaders micro-manage, it stifles the creativity and productivity of others.  Christine uses the word “enable” when referencing leaders, which I find particularly appropriate.  One of the definitions of the word enable is “to give power, means, competence, or ability to.” Doesn’t that sound exactly like what you would do to develop leaders?

                Think about a corporate meeting or a group strategy session: A bunch of people are sitting around a table working on a problem or a task.  If everyone is contributing and participating in the work session, the meeting is highly productive.  If the meeting or project serves only as a validation of the one head person’s idea or direction, the group may not provide optimal results.  During a productive meeting or project, the leader may at some point actually be someone else in the room with a bright idea or a new strategy to achieve goals, not the figurehead, like Bill Gates, that the public recognizes.  Shocking as this may sound, it is occasionally better for leaders to remember to listen and follow others as well as to lead in order to remain humble.  Humility is one of the virtues that repeatedly surfaces as a key leadership trait.  It is important to note, though, that there is a distinct line between humility and meekness.  Humility keeps a leader’s ego in check while appearing meek is in direct contrast to the concept of strong leadership.  So the idea is this: Leaders are strong because of their team and as such, leaders must listen and be ready to accept input/help from their team since it enables the team to reach their own potential.  One last thought to keep in mind, at the end of the day it is the leader who has the ultimate authority and responsibility.

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team


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