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Follow The Leader

Many leadership experts used to view business as analogous to a successful symphony orchestra—both being driven by great leaders directing highly-skilled professionals committed to creating remarkable results. However, with the enormous changes taking place in our world, the image of a predictable symphony is not an apt comparison for someone leading a corporation or family. More appropriately, organizations today need to model their efforts after a fine jazz ensemble, as the sound of jazz represents surprise and shared leadership.

Senior leaders have known for years they need to move away from command and control leadership during these turbulent times. Even the best and brightest leaders can no longer control, organize and predict what’s going to happen each year. However, while the majority of CEO’s agree that their organizations need more positive, proactive employees to take a leadership role, most admit they are falling far short of reaching that goal.

Why aren’t more individuals in our conference rooms and living rooms leading in their area of expertise? Why does the Gallup Research on employee engagement still have close to 75% of employees showing up at work disengaged and waiting to be told what to do? While the answer to that question is complicated, there is one thing you can do next week if you want to start developing more leaders in your organization or family.

Learn to become a better follower.

Our teams won’t thrive and our families won’t flourish until you’re able to help more people develop the skill and will to lead followers and follow leaders.

I know you’ve been a positive role model for leading others, but how would you rate your example when it comes to following another leader, especially one who has less power than you?

If you agree that your organization or family needs more people to step up and take a leadership role, this activity will help.

Step One: Encourage someone at your work or your home to lead a short project in the area of their expertise. Select someone who has not taken a leadership role recently.

Step Two: Ask if you can be part of their team.

Step Three: List the attitude and behaviors you’d like to see in someone who follows you and then make a commitment to model those qualities.

Step Four: At the end of the week, celebrate what went well.

This simple exercise is not meant to be a magic pill. Getting a diverse group of talented people to work better together while achieving challenging goals is not easy, but it is doable. Learning to be a better follower is a start.

I also encourage you to reflect on the lessons learned from professional jazz players as they improvise with each other to create beautiful music. The most successful jazz musicians have “big ears” which means they listen for opportunities to follow someone’s lead and they’re willing to embrace the uncertainty that comes from allowing someone else to take the lead.

Sometimes you bring out the best in others by leading, and other times you do it by following the leader.

Let’s Get Better. Together! Bill Durkin


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