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Do you have the courage to follow?

12 Apr 2011

The power of following

We live in a time where everyone is encouraged to lead, there are a million books, blogs, articles, podcasts and so on.  I doubt there is a single book on the significance and value of following and particularly being the first to follow. Being a leader takes guts at times, standing out on your own isn’t easy and trying to encourage others to come along with you can be a challenge.  But when those around you think that the guy trying to take a lead is maybe a sandwich short of a picnic it takes even more courage.  The leader knows what he is about, why he is taking a lead, the follower takes a leap of faith, they may be castigated and outcast for following a deranged loon, or maybe they are the one that makes a real difference.  This video puts it perfectly and demonstrates just how quickly a deranged loon can become a leader then be swept along by the power of their own success.

There is a story about monkeys in the 1950’s where the animals were having dietary problems as a result of eating dirty sweet potatoes.  One monkey decides to wash the sweet potato and avoid chewing the grit and dirt that normally accompanies the freshly dug up potato.   The monkey that dared to be different was cast out by the group.  But, a few years later, this practice had become the norm for the whole group.  It just took one monkey to think that the leader wasn’t doing something stupid to make a difference and pull the rest along towards a better way of doing things.

Improving processes in the work place is often the same.  How many times have you heard ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ or ‘this is how we do things around here’?  Unless you are working with some kind of structured improvement that de-risks the act of following a new path it takes just one person to recognize a better way of doing something and a critical first follower to validate the new approach.  People feel safe in groups, especially those that don’t want to lead themselves, and fun though leadership can be, it isn’t for everyone.

So, do you have the courage to lead and do something different?  How about the courage to be a first follower and validate the efforts of those who have taken the first step?

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