To be a leader, you must be a follower

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Thursday, May 19, 2011
BY TOM COX

How do leaders become leaders? By attracting or creating followers. (As Steve Balzac likes to say, “A leader without followers is just a guy taking a walk.”) How can you reliably build a following?  According to Chuck Pattishall, you do it by being a follower — by following a set of values, and modeling followership to others.

It’s a unique view, made doubly so by its proponent — Chuck is a former military paratrooper, SWAT team sniper, mountain rescue instructor, commander of an Underwater Recovery Team, international SCUBA instructor, deputy sheriff, and certified Underwater Homicide Investigator.

Chuck has also owned insurance agencies and worked in the Fortune 500, and holds an MBA.

He illustrates “followership” with the famous story of the Centurion who spoke to Jesus (Luke 7:1-10). The Centurion describes himself as both a person who commands others — “I say to one ‘go’ and he goeth, and to another I say ‘come’ and he cometh” — and also describes himself as “one under authority.” Chuck sees leaders as those who follow something larger than themselves — values.

And Chuck is echoing the message of my friend Gabe Fasolino, who suggests creating an Org Chart where the top of the organization is not a person such as a CEO, but rather the Mission and Values of the firm.

So what makes a leader powerful and attractive, is that the leader is a champion of something bigger than himself.

By contrast, Chuck once had a doctor tell him, “You could afford to lose a few pounds.” And this particular doctor was over 300 pounds, and was a smoker as well. The contrast between the message and the messenger was so great, that Chuck wasn’t able to take the advice seriously.

What’s so comic is, if the advice is good, it shouldn’t matter who tells me — yet it does matter. When the person giving the advice, isn’t living the advice, I can’t easily get past that disconnect.

The positive aspect of this is that the more I live my own values, the more other people will want to adopt my values. That means my effectiveness is under my control — I can become more effective just by living the values I want others to adopt.

So, how do I get in touch with my values? What’s my first step?

Chuck suggests asking a key question: “What are five positive characteristics you see in me?” You collect this information from five people in each of four groups:

People you’ve known less than a year
People who’ve known you for 3-5 years
Family members
Co-workers and other peers at work


You’ll find that there are two groups of answers — one cluster of characteristics that seem very familiar to you, and another cluster that will utterly surprise you.

Chuck did this and was told he was “a good writer” — something he’d never have believed. “We’re our own worst critics,” says Chuck.

Only by opening himself to this input was Chuck able to accept the possibility that maybe he really was a good writer — and he was able to use that element of feedback to build his self-image and “give himself permission” to see himself as a good writer.

That’s crucial because we cannot consistently behave in a way that violates our self image. This Vales Structure Exercise has the potential to unlock your self image and allow you to see yourself in a new, larger way.

For Chuck, seeing himself as a good writer unlocked his ability to write a book — and he’s just finished his first book.

A second growth experience for Chuck came from this same Values Structure Exercise — his ability to admit that he is courageous.

To any observer — say, someone who watched “Search and Rescue” on the History Channel and saw Chuck risk his life to rescue a fallen climber — or someone who served with him in the military — Chuck’s courage is self-evident. Yet when he listed his own self-observed character traits, he skipped over “courage.” One of his associates challenged him about it, and forced him to admit that he had never given himself permission to see himself as having courage.

That triggered some deep self assessment. As Jim Rohn said, “I’ll be a better me, for you, and you be a better you, for me.” Once he overcame his block and could admit he was courageous, Chuck suddenly found himself able to teach others to be courageous. Overcoming that mental block was a huge step toward self improvement, and it made him a better leader.

Your values don’t have to be Chuck’s values. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted.” Any positive values can be used to lead others, provided we’re willing to follow those values faithfully.

To lead, you must follow.

Business consultant and author Tom Cox is a contributing columnist for Oregon Business.



 

Comments   

 
Petria
0 #1 To Lead You Must FollowPetria 2011-05-26 16:38:14
I agree. Just make sure that as you follow to become a leader, that you're following a good leader.
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