To Lead or to Follow

A good leader knows that it’s not about being out in front of the team. It’s about bringing the team along for the ride.

This past Friday, I was fortunate enough to attend the Live 2 Lead conference and subsequently spent the weekend working with our church‘s youth at our Fall Retreat. We talked a lot about following. So in the span of the last 4 days, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it is to lead and what it is to follow.

Several years ago my wife came upon Sami.  She’s a mini-dachshund that was abandoned by her previous owner with a note saying she couldn’t keep her anymore.  Sami, like most dogs, has a desire to be close by at all times.  DSCN0043.JPGShe’s a fiercely loyal dog and she takes her job very seriously.  She stands guard between me and the door to my office and barks at the UPS guy along with anyone else who happens to ring the bell.  She’s at my heal within 6 feet of me all the time at home. Loud noises, especially shop tools and lawn mowers make her anxious because she knows they are dangerous.  She’ll even skip out on her meals if we’re not eating with her. She has a lot of the traits of a great follower.

When Sami first came to our family, she took about two weeks to warm up to me.  She’d bark at me, growl and the hair on her back would stand straight up, but once she got to know me, she became a loyal companion.

DSCN1020.JPGThis pass summer, Gail and I went to the Rocky Mountain National Forest and hiked some trails with her family.  We had a great time and a lot of the pictures here came from that trip.  I hiked with Dave and his son Bruce on a couple long hikes.  Bruce being younger and in good shape took the lead and Dave and I would follow and try to stay with him.  On our first long day hike, we did about 10 miles and Bruce, though he was leading developed a hot spot in his shoes and ended up with some nasty blisters.

DSCN1016The next day we went on another hike. He got a few miles and then had to drop back and let Dave and I continue. We were much slower, but now I was taking the lead. Though Dave was an experienced hiker, I felt a sense of responsibility to hang with him.  If I got way out in front so far that he wasn’t able to see me, then we’d no longer be hiking together. We’d each be doing our own thing and instead of a shared experience, we would have had individual experiences. It wouldn’t have been as fun or meant as much to either of us. Dave had hiked this trail before and knew where it ended.  I didn’t and I wouldn’t have known when to turn back.  I also didn’t have a good sense of pacing.  It was a steep trail and I hadn’t been hiking enough to know how far we’d gone.

A leader has a vision of where they are going and can get there faster, but it comes at the cost of getting there alone or not getting there at all. In business, this may mean a missed goal because you need your team’s experience and effort to reach it. I was following a trail and Dave and I both had a vision of where we wanted to go, but Dave was really the one leading even though I was out in front. Liz Wiseman says that a leader never crosses the finish line by themselves.  They purposely slow down to bring people with them.

Jesus did that for us when he came down to earth in the most humble of circumstances. Then, he lead by example a life, death and resurrection, then offered it to us if we would follow. He is the only one who’s already been there, done that and come back to tell us about it.

And you know the way to where I am going.”
“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” — Jn 14:4-7

Simon Sinek says that a good leader has empathy.  Empathy is being concerned about the person, not just the output.  If we’re constantly trying lead from the front, it’s not possible to focus on the relationship.  Instead, we’re focused only on the goal.  If the goal is to get across the finish line first, that’s great, but if the goal is to get the team across the line, the leader must focus on the relationship to reach the end goal.

In every case, leading or following, at the end of the day, it’s all about relationships.  The work that gets done is a result of the relationships that we form.

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