leadership

4 Ways To Lead By Following

By Asa Beavers

When I think of leaders, I visualize something different than many people do. A high-performing team is one in which every player acts in a leadership capacity—at least part of the time. Unfortunately, many still think of leadership as something assigned exclusively to one person. The image of a lone individual standing at the head of a board room table, “calling the shots,” illuminates a misleading idea that I believe is all too pervasive in workplace cultures. Successful leaders create thriving organizations by stepping out of the spotlight and showing others how to achieve their own greatness.

There's all kinds of good that comes from being a good listener, especially when you're the boss. Here's 4 tips to keep in mind...

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Leadership is somewhat like literacy. The ability to lead, like the ability to read and write, is no longer an attribute that gives one person an edge over another. It is a basic requirement for every job—even at entry-level. And in order to lead effectively, we all must first learn to follow. Learning to follow is not simply a matter of doing what one is told to do. It requires actively working to develop the humility necessary to be willing to follow.

When was the last time you challenged yourself to follow rather than lead? Here are 4 simple ways that you can do a better job of leading by following.

Ask for advice

We often resist asking for advice because we’re afraid we’ll be perceived as weak or indecisive. However, the best leaders welcome advice and admit that they don’t have all the answers. People feel appreciated and acknowledged when you ask for their input. It shows that you respect their professional expertise. It also encourages them to take ownership in the success of the team. Unfortunately, people in leadership positions often tighten the reins and reject outside perspectives. This stifles initiative and creates a culture of compliance rather than cooperation. Seek advice often, and create an atmosphere where people feel like they can freely speak the truth.

Lead from the heart

Leave your ego behind. A leader does not always need to be tough, rational, and bottom-line oriented. Professionalism is necessary in business settings, but sometimes, managing “by the book” just doesn’t cut it. Passion is critical to the health of every business enterprise, and so is empathy. To earn the respect of your peers, you have to put your heart into what you do. Put your team’s needs ahead of yours, and show that you care about them personally.

Follow your instincts

We all have a sixth sense that helps us make the right decision at critical moments. Some call it intuition, and some call it “going with your gut.” I have found, over the years that learning to listen to my inner voice has completely changed the way I relate to leadership. Sometimes, a decision might appear to be solid based on the facts and the numbers—but it just doesn’t feel right. A good leader knows when to go against conventional logic and listen to that instinctive nudge instead. Sometimes, that takes real courage, especially when you must persuade others to go along with your choice. But if you encourage open dialogue with your team, you will find that when a member of your team has a hunch—and speaks up about it—someone else will echo the sentiment more often than not.

Cultivate leadership in others

It’s far easier to take control and delegate tasks than it is to empower others to lead. Top-down leadership limits the performance of a team and prevents people from reaching their potential. By contrast, there’s nothing I find more rewarding than helping other people discover the confidence to step into their own leadership. Ask yourself how you can create an environment where people have the freedom to develop their leadership skills.

When a respected leader consciously chooses to follow, a new opportunity appears. I have found that habitually moving into a follower role has consistently resulted in more creative and independently managed teams. When you stop giving commands and start asking for people’s input, you will see the efficiency of your team increase—with less effort required on your part. When you help people discover their latent potential, they become enthusiastic supporters, and they become wholeheartedly committed to the success of the business.