Leading the Follower (Part 2 of Follow the Leader)

…sorry to double up on you, but I realized my last post was really two topics.  So I’ve split it in two.  Thanks for bearing with me.  –Lorrie

I’ve come to see the lesson of “be careful who you choose to follow” as two-sided.  It’s just as important to be a good leader, and sometimes we don’t even know we are leading!  The boy in the speaker’s story posted earlier had no idea he was leading his classmate into humiliation.  He just had to go to the bathroom.  When might you be leading without knowing it?

Recently, a coaching colleague was assisting a coaching skills class.  The class was led by well-trained people with years of experience, but the assistants were pretty new.  Assistants only have to have taken the class in order to qualify to assist.  The students in the class know this, but instantly forgot.  You see, once “assistant” label is given out, leadership status is created.  Students expect assistants to be qualified to answer all kinds of questions from how to market their business, to fees and how to terminate a relationship.  It works in this particular environment because assistants qualify their answers with background information and bounce the question to leaders when appropriate.  My point though, is that once you call yourself a leader (or in this case assistant leader) people look to you to lead.  Unless you prove otherwise, your leadership will be regarded as trustworthy.

Last weekend, I had a funny example of how this works.  I was helping run a retreat and we found ourselves a little ahead of schedule.  The musical people in our group were engaged in setting up the next activity, so another group was asked to entertain the attendees by practicing some songs with them.  The songs were new to this retreat, so the group assigned the task didn’t know them well – and they weren’t particularly musically inclined.  Nonetheless, the group was given leadership authority and everyone was given a songbook.  The group eventually led in a song that had the leaders sing a line and then the group echo it back.  This worked for a few lines, and then the leaders stumbled over the words and melody of the next line.  The group echoed it back – EXACTLY – with all the mumbling, stumbling, and off-beat rhythm of the leaders.  It was very funny, but everyone just grinned and kept on singing.  Suddenly I understood something important:  even when we know that we are  led in a faulty way, we often imitate our leaders by making the same mistakes.  The attendees didn’t try to correct themselves, or stop and reassess.  They simply parroted back what they had been shown.  Wow. 

We are all both leaders and followers.  Here’s to hoping you follow and lead others in worthwhile pursuits.


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