Following

Maybe, in times of uncertainty and rapid change, following is the most important thing we can do.

Following is a choice. By accepting and commiting to a leader’s premise, we are defining ourselves. Our values, our hopes, our aspirations. By following we become personally accountable for the outcomes .

A leader cannot be a leader without followers.

Both “leading” and “following” imply movement. From here, to there. Joint effort to an agreed destination for a specific purpose.

Following infers risk. It’s not often the Generals that lie bleeding on the battlefield.

So, perhaps we have three options.

  • To Lead. In pursuit of something we believe in , to commit ourselves and face the dangers. The Hero’s Journey.
  • To Follow. To make a conscious decision to back the vision and capability of a leader, putting yourself on the line by making your decision.
  • Fatalism. To do nothing, in the belief that you can do nothing, and that what will be will be.

Each is a conscious choice. When we decide to do something, to say yes to something, no to something, or take a time out, we are making decisions and defining ourselves.

Each time we put a cross on a ballot paper, take a job offer, follow somebody on social media, or watch and do nothing we are defining who we are to others, and of course ourselves.

Who we follow is a serious decision, with consequences. Take it seriously.

We are all accountable.

What’s the thread running through your organisation?

Every organisation we walk into feels different.

What it looks like – cared for or tired?, what’s on the walls – art or marketing slogans?

What it sounds like – the underlying level of hum, laughter, phones ringing.

How it responds to you – does it notice your arrival and make you feel welcome, or ignore you?

What it’s for – Do you get a sense of why it exists? Is it important?

There are many traditions that believe we have a soul, from faith communites, to the ancient wisdoms.

I have always found the Myth of Er in Plato’s Republic valuable to read every now and then as a means of reflecton.

Whether or not you choose to believe in a soul, I suggest it is a valuable thought experiment.

What if, At the moment of our birth, we receive a soul, to pass it on when we die ?

What if our job during life is to ensure we hand it on in better condition than we receive it?

What if we applied the same idea to our organisations? They are created for a reason, to meet a need in the world – whether for profit, or social purpose, or both. From the time it is created, to it’s inevitable demise, it makes a difference of some sort. Does it leave its employees, customers, communities and the world a better place, or not? Does it care? Does it even notice?

Is it a giver, a taker or a matcher?

It has always mattered, and now it is becoming ever more noticeable, and our organisations more accountable. The population in general, and the younger generation in partcular, notice.

There’s a thread.

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change. You have to explain about the thread. But it is hard for others to see. While you hold it you can’t get lost. Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old. Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. You don’t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford

We can keep shareholders happy, make ourselves rich, maybe even famous – but what if we had as our most important metric the condition of the organisations soul? What if we pay attention to its thread?

I wonder what we would do different today?

Accountability vs Responsibility

There’s a difference.

I’m in London attending a conference in Greenwich, and the hotel I was booked into (a very pleasant one in the centre)had a flood, and moved me to the only feasible alternative, a budget chain hotel a few minutes away. A nuisance, but no problem; stuff happens.

The interesting lesson was the “agency problem”. having dealt with the mechanics, the problem was delegated to me – organising taxis, sorting bills, all the minutiae. The opportunity to turn a challenge into a positive experience went missing, as job descriptions, and the boundaries of accountability to line managers, kicked in.

At the conference (In the University of Greenwich – great location) the person looking after the conference could not have been more different. constantly there, not obtrusive, sensing what was going on, and providing things as the need appeared, but before requests were made. My guess is he’s on the same sort of contract as those in the hotel, but he took responsibility.

Accountability is to others. Responsibility is to ourselves.

It’s a big difference.