When to Lead, When to Follow

When to Lead, When to Follow

I recently saw a young woman wearing a t-shirt that said, “Follow the leader.” What made the shirt a bit different was that the word “Follow” had been crossed off, and the word “Be” was written above it.

We often see children playing “follow the leader.” It’s an age-old game that small children seem to enjoy. What’s most interesting is who gets to be the leader and how those decisions get made. Every now and then, an individual  is described as a “born” leader, but, generally, if a person wants to be an outstanding leader, leadership skills have to be learned, practiced, applied, refined, and used again and again.

Some work situations require leadership. Some even demand it. There are, however, times when your leadership is not expected nor even warranted. Some of these leadership situations include:

•If you lack the actual knowledge base needed to assume the leadership role
•When there is someone obviously more qualified to be the leader
•When your boss has already assumed the leadership role
•When you are being set up for failure by a competitor or a colleague
•If you are already so overloaded with current commitments that you can’t possibly absorb, and do justice to, one more project
•When it’s actually a dump job or busy work that no one really cares about

That’s not to suggest that you shouldn’t volunteer for leadership situations. Being a successful project or team leader is a good way to get recognized by your boss and the administration. Failing in a leadership role also gets you noticed, but in a negative way.

So, instead of being like the child who always raises her or his hand to be in the front of the line whenever “Follow the Leader” is suggested, try and choose your leadership opportunities carefully. You can always participate as a good team member.  Sometimes, however, it’s better to follow the leader than be one.

Photo Credit: Spread Shirt

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