How to Be a Great Leader Before You Are Even "in-charge"

How to be a Lead-Follower

Have you ever heard the phrase “too many chefs in the kitchen”? Or my personal favorite, “Too many Chiefs, not enough Indians”?There is such huge pressure in our generation to be a leader. But the truth is most of us don't have what it takes. Wait…huh? Stay with me folks…I have made an interesting observation about you and me (yeah, myself included). Here it is: We don’t want to be A leader unless we are THE leader.But the reality is that not all of us can be or should always be THE leader...and that's ok.

Be a "lead-follower"

The current culture among the "leaders" of generation Y creates a problem because it means that no one wants to follow. This affectively either tramples the Chief in a stampede of wannabes or leaves him standing alone with no one to lead into the fight. Understanding your role on a team is very important and often humbling, but if we understand the importance of following, it can create a much healthier culture of leadership.I first made this discovery when i experienced it for myself. Some time ago i was placed in an environment as a team member while one of my best friends was chosen as the leader. Though i would have never admitted it, i was upset. The problem was i felt more qualified for the job skills-wise, and at least equally as capable as a leader. I was supportive on the outside, but i threw a month's worth of hissy-fits and pity-parties that i only invited myself to. We are talking hat, cake, piñata, the works. But worst part didn't come until i began to realize for myself what the others had already known - he was ready to lead, and i wasn't quite there yet. I arrived at this point because of how gracious he was with me as a friend and a leader; knowing my frustration, he showed just how capable he was. This was one of the most humbling experiences in my life to date. I had to make the decision to be a follower if i wanted to learn and prepare myself for when i got my chance. So i elected myself as the "lead follower".Watch this ridiculous - but profound - video about the significance of the Lead Follower.

2 of the biggest fallacies of leadership floating around:

  1. You have to be in charge to lead
  2. The leader is the most important person on the team

For the not-yet leader

If you are the leader-type (or you want to be a leader in the future), the role of “lead follower” is the best practice you can have until you get your shot. Every great leader has to have at least one untitled leader among the followers, someone who will be there at all costs. These guys and gals are actually the most important people on the team because only they can turn the “lone nut” into a powerful cause. Here are some practical ways to practice the invaluable skill of lead-following.

  • Be the first one on board - The others already know you are a leader too. The fact that you confirm their decisions will increase their authority. When you buy in, everyone else will buy in.
  • Be positive - Don't just point out problems like the others. Offer solutions and add value to the team outside of decision making.
  • Make the leader look good - Even when you don't agree, support the leaders decision and go out of your way to find a way to make it work.
  • Honor the leader - Public endorsement earns you private influence. Genuinely praise the leader in public and show that you are behind the cause. This will build trust, causing your opinion to carry more weight with the leader.

For the already leader

The U.S. has one of the youngest populations among developed countries with a median age of 35 years. There are a growing number of young leaders. More than ever before we are seeing a shift in the age spectrum in corporations, organizations, and politics . In a lot of ways, it’s no longer about how old you are but how capable and creative you are. That's good news for us, but we have to be ready. If you are on the fast-track to a high level of influence relatively early in your career, pause for a second.Let’s look at this like a game of chess. There is a reason the King doesn’t lead the charge. He mostly sits back and observes. He thinks ahead and makes strategic use of the available pieces around him. The King is limited in his movements, and he would get pulverized if he charged off more than one space at a time trying to overrun his followers that protect him. Here are a few things to remember about your role as a leader and the importance of key followers:

  • Make the tough discovery - You are nothing without the people around you. No matter how smart, creative, sly, pretty you are, you can't win by yourself. There's just too much to be done - even for the hustler.
  • Take inventory - Find the few you can trust. Cherish them with everything you have, and take them to the top with you.
  • Praise in public, correct in private - This creates loyalty and respect because they know you are behind them and that you care. Show them you trust them, and challenge them to step up.
  • Replace yourself - No leader can work ON something when they are too busy working IN it. Create sustainability and find and a successor, because there is no legacy without both. Train one of your promising peeps to be a lead-follower, empower them to take charge, and prepare them for their shot.

Over to you! Have you struggled with following when you want to lead? What other advice could you offer?

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