Sometimes it’s Good to Let Go & Follow | Gagen MacDonald

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Sometimes it’s Good to Let Go & Follow

Jan 08, 2015
The more I think about and practice leadership, the more convinced I am that we also need to hone the discipline and skill of following. “Followership,” although less lauded, is every bit as noble and grand – and in many instances, even more critical to the success of an outcome. In fact, odd as it seems, certain followers have more influence than the original leader.Derek Sivers made a terrific case for this in his now-famous TED presentation that showed how the First Follower transformed the act of a crazy guy on a hill into a mini-movement. It’s quite informative and entertaining, so if you haven’t seen it, check it out. It focuses on the role of a leader to embrace the first followers.This concept isn’t new. One of my favorite Harvard Business Review articles was titled “In Praise of Followers.”I first read it in 1988. What I love about this article is that it focuses on the importance of following (vs. the importance of embracing followers – which is the point of the TED presentation). Author Robert E. Kelly outlines four qualities of effective followers:
  1. They manage themselves well.
  2. They are committed to an organization and to a purpose, principle, or person outside of themselves.
  3. They build their competence and focus their efforts for maximum impact.
  4. They are courageous, honest and credible.
He goes on to state that “self-confident followers see colleagues as allies and leaders as equals.” Kelly’s thinking has stuck with me for all these years – as a follower, then leader, then “leader as follower.” It’s influenced whom I’ve hired, and profoundly influenced how I lead – as I’m surrounded by people far more gifted than I.So after more than two decades (ouch!), I dug up the article and looked at it again. And one of the call-out quotes jumped off of the page; “Groups with many leaders can be chaos. Groups with none can be very productive.”I don’t think it was coincidence that I was drawn to resurrecting that article just as we were about to post my interview with Jonathan Spitz, Artistic Director of Orpheus, the highly-accaimed conductor-less orchestra. The Wall Street Journal’sCorinna Da Fonseca-Wollheim beautifully describes the Orpheus Method and what she calls ”the egalitarian organizational principle at the heart of the orchestra” in her March 22 article, A Personal Code of Conduct.Jonathan told me about the phenomenal musicians that Orpheus attracts, virtuosos in their own right. With Orpheus, each must be a leader and a follower. And they see success (collectively and individually) in their “ability to yield… the ability to play someone else’s interpretation as well as their own.”Wow. Now that’s music to my ears.
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