We Follow the Leader
A few years ago, a dear friend of mine gave me the book Aspire: Discovering Your Purpose through the Power of Words by Ken W. Hall. As an avid reader and lover of language, I dug right in. The book introduced me to the concept of studying the etymology of words - their background, their history – so you can better appreciate why we use them and their true meaning. When I got to the word “Leader” I was captivated. I have been leading people, and teaching leadership, for 20+ years. I have used the word a million times without considering where it came from, but once I understood the genesis of it, it became foundational in how I practice, teach and coach leadership. It was derived from two Indo-European words - “Lea” (Path) and “Der” (Finder). The leader was the pathfinder – the person who they sent out ahead of the tribe to be sure the path was safe to follow. From the beginning, being a leader has been about being the person who goes first and being someone people follow. A vulnerable and bold position…then and now.
Therefore, the people who find the path, and who have followership, are the leaders. If someone is standing still, are they really the leader? If no one is following them, are they the leader? If other people are ahead of you, are you really LEADING?
In today’s rapidly changing world, being first matters. Being someone who can get people to follow you in a new direction is critical. One of our clients is trying to drive a cultural revolution – they are a 100+ year old business wanting to compete in the software world but they have a hardware mindset. When we ask employees – executives, managers, individual contributors – “Why isn’t the culture changing?” we usually have to sit back and watch a finger-pointing show. It is someone else who isn’t changing, some other level of leader who needs to change first. What they are really saying is, “I don’t want to lead this.”
Changing a culture takes time, but changing the culture YOU are creating, can happen immediately. This company needs pathfinders. They are all waiting for someone else to go first.
Leadership is more than a role, it is something you need to do. It is finding the path and saying, “Follow Me.”
- Am I pathfinder in my business or a thought-follower? Who is following me? Who is ahead of me?
- Which leaders have the most followership in my organization? Write down the first 5 names that come to mind. Are people following them because of their job title or their level of influence? What do they DO/SAY that helps them cultivate followership? What would I need to practice to be more like them?
- Do we have a business that attracts and supports pathfinders? If not, what needs to change?