Leading by Following

You don’t have to run the show to be an effective leader

 Photo courtesy of Dominik Lange

Photo courtesy of Dominik Lange

I was once in a leadership meeting where the team leader said nothing. If you didn't know who he was, you wouldn't have guessed that he was the boss; that the buck stopped with him. He wasn't running the meeting, so he didn't say much. He simply asked some clarifying questions and made a few comments. He didn't challenge anyone’s assertions nor did he force his ideas on the team.

While, there’s great value in having a take-charge kind of leader, being a leader doesn't mean you have to run the show at all times. Unfortunately, there are those who think you don’t have leadership abilities or potentials if you don’t always and visibly show what they consider leadership behaviors. To them, you have to say something at every meeting. They believe that you must always have something to contribute, or you don’t belong in leadership circles. Some expect every leader to exhibit a Type A personality even if that's not who they are.

When James Sinegal co-founded COSTCO in 1983, it was a small organization trying to grow. With his leadership, the company grew to be one of the most profitable in the world with an enviably low employee turnover. Against very stiff competition from bigger companies like Wal-Mart, Sinegal kept COSTCO strong with collaboration and solid operational tactics.

Most organizational cultures develop from the personality of the founder. At inception, the founder has to take charge to chart a course for the organization. After all, it’s her vision and she knows exactly what she wants accomplished. However, with success comes expansion and possible changes in direction. The vision could suddenly become bigger than that of one person. A smart founder will find ways to tap into the strategic skills of other leaders in the organization. To do this, she must have been able to surround herself with leaders that are equally capable.

In a piece about Sinegal, Karlee Weinmann wrote that “At a young company, it's important that the few members of your operation can collaborate, share ideas and develop strategies to grow. As the business gets more established, it's important to have open communication with your direct reports.” Open communication and collaboration help to birth new ideas and strategies. These are the keys to sustainable business success.

You Can’t Be a Know-It-All

Even after you have surrounded yourself with leaders who have like-minded passion for the organization, situations will occasionally arise, when you don’t agree on issues. What you do in those instances may make or break your reputation as a leader.

In their book, The EQ Edge, Steven Stein and Howard Book noted that “… excellent leaders can compromise and put their preferred decision aside when the team or department’s decision is appropriate. Doing so solidifies team spirit, is evidence of your (the leader’s) flexibility, and demonstrates that good leaders are also good followers.

As long as the team decision does not seem to put the organization in jeopardy or potentially result in unimaginable losses, putting your preferred decision aside will do a lot to build trust within a team. Rather than taking the lead all the time, allow others to lead; let them flex those leadership muscles and grow into the leaders they’re meant to be.

My Way or the Highway

I used to work in a place where one head of department ruled with an iron fist. He had to have the last say on everything. There was no doubt about who was in charge. He got his way through intimidation, fear and coercion. This went on for a while because he delivered results. However, such results are not sustainable; not with the methods that he employed. Eventually, he was let go.

The results we get and the manner in which they are achieved are equally important. There are leaders who focus on "what" needs to get done. They need to get immediate results. While getting quick results are important and crucial indicators of success, the "how" determines whether or not those results are sustainable.

Are you the type of leader that achieves outstanding results, but your team members do not feel valued? If that's is the case, they will jump ship at the slightest opportunity?

Do you lead in such a way that makes your team members loyal even when what looks like good opportunities get dangled in front of them? Only one of these types of leaders delivers the kind of results that endures.

What will it be? The choice is yours.