How Shall We Follow?


Imagine you are part of a system that faces hard choices and complex challenges.  For example, you’re in a family that is trying to decide about end-of-life issues, or you’re trying to decide whether to relocate your kids for a job opportunity. Or perhaps you’re in a company that’s trying to decide about layoffs.  Or imagine you are running a large company and trying to decide whether to overhaul it completely, sell it off, or enter into a risky merger.  If you were at the helm in such situations, I wonder: What attitudes or commitments among your “followers” would you most like them to have?

Here’s what I’d want:  Openness to new ideas, because sometimes institutions have to change to survive.  I would hope for candid feedback, because I would want to know how people think proposed changes would affect them. I would also hope for some patience and trust, because steering through difficult decisions requires a whole lot of balancing, thinking and rethinking. Lastly, I think I would love to have my “followers” get in my shoes or see through my eyes, to see what I hope is the entire picture.  Allow me a paragraph’s digression.

Next week’s Reading for Leading will launch a second blog for the year ahead.  This new blogsite will address the question, “Among the important traits of leaders, what do we most need in our next President?” A number of great leadership writers will contribute.  This will NOT be about partisan issues, and it will NOT be about particular candidates.  Instead, we will ask about what we need; What attitudes, traits or behaviors seem most important in our next leader at this unique time?  Why not begin with what we need; then see who fits the bill?

Before I began that, I want to ask you to reflect not on what we need, but what will our next President need from us, in order to lead well.  If the examples in the first paragraph above – of leaders facing tough decisions – beg for great followers, how much more could great followers help our next President?  I’d love for you to comment on this blog about whether you think I have offered the right attributes of great followers, the things our next president will need from us.  And you might also comment about how we can generate such attitudes as openness, candor, patience and trust, or a full appreciation of the big picture.  If I’ve named the follower attitudes for citizens to generate great leadership, I have to wonder whether we deserve a great leader!

All leadership is dynamic, two-way, interactive – even in a system as huge as our political system.  It is only if we follow well that we can expect our next President to

Lead with their best self.