Yesterday evening, I was following my mentee to our meeting place. As it happens (when you’re following someone while driving), as we were making the turn into the traffic, another vehicle pulled out in between us, making it difficult for me to see her, therefore follow her. So, as soon as I could, I changed lanes and found myself alongside her; and because the traffic was heavy, I couldn’t get behind her again, so she allowed me to pull in front of her. Interesting positioning since I was supposed to be following her. But how was going to follow her now that I’m in front of her, not behind?
I immediately knew that our change in positions and tasks signaled a teachable moment. Note our dynamics:
- I am the leader
- She is the mentee (follower)
- The project requires that I follow (Her GPS was giving the directions and she had a better idea where we were going—she had been there before.
- We agreed that I would follow her there
- I ended up (due to my impatience) ahead or in front of a project that I was originally not the lead
- So, I decided that I would stay out front but still take directions from her
But, how was I going to do this you ask? In a word-- communicate. It was dark out and I was still going to follow her lead, although I was in front. Instinctively, but we both knew that she was still going to lead the way. I knew it because she had the plans (GPS guide) and there no time to switch mine on, as I was in the middle of traffic. But, we were on the same journey.
And, I was intrigued to watch how we were going to navigate the process. I knew we had to communicate via the turn and other lighting signals. Sure enough, when it was time to change lanes or turn, she blinked her head lights and flipped her turn signal to make a right turn. And, because I was following her, I saw both signals and made the right turn without incidence.
While the inspiration for our topic Leading by following: There is an Outside Chance that You don’t Know Everything comes directly from my personal belief system that collaborative leadership is important, the experiential of the drive to the Pizza place informed how would express this idea in the writing. To complete my expose’, I will use the numerical bullets to make my point. But, first I must share the general point that I’m making about leading by following, so if you are in charge of anyone in any arena, my hope is that you these ideas will be useful.
Often, we leaders forget the immense resource that a team brings to the company’s vision. If we hire with intentionality, our teams should be diverse in every way: talent, perspective, even personality to name just a few. So, we should expect that each member will bring a host of valuable resources to contribute to our success. Good thinking, so if we hire a capable team why not profit from it —that is why we’re paying the group. This means that we need to take the back seat sometimes, or as in my story look through your rearview mirror and follow other leaders in the company.
You may discover, as I did, that your talent is talented. In addition, you may gain a bit more respect from the team when you acknowledge the expertise of others—recognition can go a long way and increased productivity is often one of the results. I’ve found that when you reward hard work, you get more of it. Rewarding team members also is an acknowledgment of individual capabilities, as it is one way to inspire innovation.
In closing, let’s review my process
1) We collaborated on how we would achieve our goal: Get to the meeting place. No discussion needed, except that I would follow her over to the venue.
2) She (the mentee) had knowledge that I didn’t have. She had been there before and she knew the way. In addition, she made use of an aid the GPS as a backup strategy. We both agreed.
3) When an unforeseen glitch in the plan cropped up, we adjusted, without calling a meeting or reprimands, we simply used our wits to adjust, seeing the task to completion.
4) We worked together, communicating through the hiccup while respecting each other’s decisions and each other’s role in the task.
Finally, we communicated through the entire process. So while, as the leader, you don’t know everything, communicating with your team will give you access to knowledge that you would not have otherwise had. Hence the value of leading while following.
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