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.

Leadership vs. Management

Leadership has fallen into everyday terminology. There is a multi billion dollar market in training people to be leaders. I’ve noticed in conversations and in appraisals aspirations to leadership. Leadership is generally seen to be a “good thing”

When I ask people what do you want to lead, and why? I often get a bemused response. ” I just want to be a leader!”

I think we’ve allowed people to separate management and leadership, and that somehow the latter is more important than the former. I suggest it isn’t. Management is a skilled function, in pursuit of clearly defined ends. It is not woolly, or even questioning. It gets stuff done. On time. To Budget.

The stuff to be done is the responsibility of leadership. Leadership is tough. It is a service industry. It is about communicating clearly what you want to those you are responsible for, and protecting them whilst they do it.

It wrestles with uncertainty. It sticks its head over the parapet looking for what needs to happen. It is woolier than Shaun the sheep and full of wicked questions – questions that change each time you address them.

Why would anybody want to be a leader?

To do stuff that matters. To be accountable to ourselves for that. To make something happen that wouldn’t happen without us. That’s important enough to risk failure and ridicule for because what needs to be achieved is that important.

Management is full of tools and templates, metrics, case studies and best practice. Decisions are defensible and rational. Failure can be rationalised.

Leadership is often soggy. Intuition, Instinct, Hope, Fear. Nothing to fall back on but ourselves in the moment of decision, and doing it anyway.

Status doesn’t arrive with the addition of “Leader” to our business card. It is earned from taking the personal risk for something important – whether in the end we succeed or fail, because people recognise the purpose was worthwhile.

Sitting in the fire

I’m always intrigued that those people and organisations who say they want change But really mean that what they want is for others to change.

Their own “elasticity” regarding change is often limited, for understandable reasons. They have a lot invested in the way things are – infrastructure, reputation, credit ratings; the list goes on. Incremental change is acceptable, but rarely enough. The end result is that product and organisational life cycles are reducing.

Change doesn’t much care about their sensitivities, and is moving faster, and more unpredictably than they are.

For a number of reasons, the word ‘dyad” has been cropping up for me a lot recently. A dyad is simply a pair, but the relationship between the pair is where it gets interesting. Harmonious dyads often seem not to cope with change very well. Vested interests. Old boy networks. They have similar world views, don’t conflict, and are invested in the same things. Sparks rarely fly, and on the occasions they do are quickly extinguished.

However, the nature of change means that they are unsustainable. No organisation can handle currently levels of highly charged complexity.

Conflicting dyads on the other hand, where the sparks fly and ignite, is where the real change happens. It’s uncomfortable, and means ‘sitting in the fire”.

You’ve got to have a really good reason for sitting in the fire. It’s uncomfortable, uncertain and you may get burned. On the other hand, the really good stuff gets forged there. It’s where the magic happens. Alchemy.

For a number of reasons, in my work, I have found myself recently sat in said fire, uncomfortably but determinedly. What was at stake was too important not to, and I’m fortunate that I have enough independence, and enough support, not to have to jump out because the mortgage needs paying. That’s a privilege, but also a choice.

The change is not instant, and sitting there feeling as though your nether regions are more than medium rare is painful for a while, until the fire works its magic and what needs to happen becomes clear.

Then, it’s something of a brand new day.

It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about creation. Relationships may change. People may see you differently, and indeed, you may see yourself differently. Brand new day. And whatever the weather, the sun is shining.

Here are some of the conflicting pairs I’m seeing right now;

  1. The needs of the individual and the needs of shareholder owned businesses.
  2. The power and potential of individual purpose and organisational needs for compliance.
  3. Conventional administration and bureaucracy versus artificial intelligence.

Each of these has enormous potential for productive change, but to do so, we need to get our backsides more than warm.

Alchemy requires Fire starters and Fire carriers as well as fire sitters.

Footnote. I’m reading Novacene by James Lovelock. He’s 100.

How can we not be in awe of somebody who thinks and writes with this clarity in his 101st year? An Alchemist if ever there was one.