We’re all leaders AND followers.


Are leaders born or made?  I don’t believe it’s either.  As with elite athletes, some leaders are naturals and some have to work hard to become good leaders.  Also, I believe context can be as important as one’s specific leadership skills.  We are all leaders in some situations and followers in others.  Let me qualify this by making it clear that I’m not a psychologist and I don’t have a masters in leadership.  What I have is almost 20 years of experience working both as an employee and as a senior leader in manufacturing.  I’ve lived both sides of the leader/follower equation and these are my observations.

For whatever reasons, there are situations in which a particular person will take the lead and have conviction in her direction and have great success.

There are other situations in which the same person will defer to others because she believes them to be the ones with the knowledge and experience to lead her through a particular situation.

But there are also situations, and, for me, these are the interesting ones, when people who are clearly qualified and experienced enough to take the lead, defer to those who are not.  I’ve seen this many times in my career and for many people, figuring out why they defer in these situations is crucial for them to reach their potential.

Why, when someone has the experience, knowledge and the ability, will she sometimes defer to a person who, on the face of it, is not as qualified or with whose ideas she doesn’t necessarily agree?

What about that person’s personality or the situation causes her to defer?

What about our own personalities allows us to defer when we should know that it’s best that we lead? 

I think for each of us, exploring this is a valuable, if difficult, exercise to help develop and become the leader, parent, employee and person we want to be.

The following are some possible explanations for why we might not take the lead when we should.  They are questions to ask yourself as a challenge to be better.  To be the confident leader when you should be, not just when it’s easy to be.

1. Are you afraid of being wrong? If so, do you shy away sometimes from being the one making the decisions?

2. If the group fails it’s on the leader – do you defer to avoid personal failure?

3. Do you like approval?  Leaders can rarely please everyone. Do you avoid leading sometimes so that you can remain in everyone’s good books?

4. Are you an optimist?  If you tend to believe things will work out, do you sometimes avoid the stress of leading if you think things will turn out okay regardless?

5. Are you too easily satisfied?  Leaders always have a certain level of dissatisfaction which drives them to make changes to improve things. When are you dissatisfied enough to push for change and when do you say “good enough”.

Personally, my most rewarding times are always the ones when I have the confidence to lead, to work hard to achieve my objectives and the confidence to risk being wrong.

Consider for yourself when you take the lead and when you follow.  And more importantly, are you leading when you should lead?  Why or why not?

About Mike Bonn:  I offer Business Coaching Services and facilitate the unique LMI process to help individuals and organizations improve performance.  If you would like to contact me to discuss any of my blogs, or to learn more about how I can help you, give me a call at 613.743.5642 or send me an email mbonn@lmicanada.ca.

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