In a previous article, we looked at a very simple leadership situation, and discussed some of the basic leadership lessons that every leader needs to learn. This article continues where that one left off.
The scenario we’re discussing is one that I
stole borrowed from Robin Scharma: a class of children lined up at the classroom door. Like the engine at the front of a train, the child in front leads the rest the class off to their appointed destination: perhaps to assembly, the dinner hall or out to play.
The advantage of this simple scene is that it encompasses many of the essential aspects of leadership. As such, it is a great illustration for many of the key principles of leadership excellence.
Here are my observations:
To Be a Leader You Need Followers
Leadership guru John C. Maxwell said it best:
A leader without followers is just taking a walk.John C. Maxwell
To be the class leader at school, you needed the rest of the class to follow you. At school, it was easy to get people to follow you, because the teacher told them to follow you. In the adult world, however, things don’t always work that way: you’ll be a lot more successful as a leader if people follow you because they want to rather than because they have to.
Your Leadership is Built on Trust
Children tend to trust their teacher, so when they’re told to follow the leader they generally do so. With adults, it is usually you, as the leader, who has to instil trust in your followers. Your followers will only follow you if you show them that your intention is to take them where they want to go. Of course, building the kind of trust relationship with people can be hard, but is the only way to ensure you have a following.
(Incidentally, one of the best ways to build trust is to listen: if the guy just behind you says you’ve taken the wrong corridor, listen. He may not be right, but you’ll have shown respect, and respect is a coin that buys loyalty)
You Need to Slow Down If You Want Others to Keep Up
When my son was young, his Nursery School ran a scheme where parents could go and work there for a morning or afternoon so that they could see how the school operated and what kinds of activities their children were engaged in. I was privileged to attend one of these sessions, and enjoyed every minute. My favorite memory of the day was watching my son travelling between rooms in the kind of line we’ve been talking about. The teacher went first, followed by a fairly tidy line of rather serious-looking and purposeful 4-year-olds. Then, straggling somewhere near the back and a good way behind everyone else was my son, JB. Unlike the others, he was meandering along in his own little world, singing away happily to himself. He looked so cute!
In many leadership situations, you’ll find that you will need to slow down if you want the stragglers to keep up. As Steve Chalk has said,
The journey with others is slower than the journey alone.Steve Chalk, Change Agents
Those in Authority Look for Leaders Who Get Results
When I was at school, there were some children who got to be the leader far more often than the rest of us. That seemed so unfair at the time, but I realize now that the teacher preferred to choose children who had already proven that they could do the job effectively. Of course, that’s not to say that some of the other children couldn’t have been a good leader if only they’d had the chance. Nevertheless, having worked as a teacher myself, I can understand why some teachers would choose reliability over fairness: classroom management can be “challenging” (think herding cats) they need to get a job done, and they need someone they can trust to do it.
Not surprisingly, the adult world is the same: people in authority need a leader they can trust. As a result, it is more often than not the people who get results are the ones who get chosen as the leader.
Your Position as Leader is Temporary
When the class reaches its destination, the train of children usually disbands. It is the same in any leadership scenario – leadership is only ever a temporary situation, one which will end when you either: (1) loose your followers, or (2) arrive at your destination. You’ll become known as an effective leaders when you regularly, and with a minimum of fuss, help your followers achieve the latter.
If you want to take your place at the front of the train, you’ll need to win the hearts and minds of both your followers and those in authority over you. At the same time, remember that leadership is everything else. To coin a phrase:
Everything is Temporary