Why You Shouldn’t Follow the Leader

This past weekend I took a trip with some friends to ride our snowmobiles from Ville-Marie to Val D’or Quebec.  We had a great time, although I’m sore in places I didn’t know could get sore. There was an important lesson I was reminded of during the trip, something I’ve observed in action amongst teams in virtually all working environments.

I call it, “Follow the Leader Syndrome”.

No, I’m not referring to a children’s game, but a natural human response that must be curbed if your team is to function at high levels of creativity and performance.

The realization came to me during our ride when I was following fairly closely to a friend of mine who was leading us. We passed a sign that identified the trail turning to the right, and very shortly after I was faced with a decision to either follow the trail which clearly turned to the right, or follow my friend into a heavily treed area.

Which direction do you think I took? That’s right, I followed my friend into the trees – luckily with plenty of room to stop and turn around. No bruises except our egos.

What struck me as odd was that I clearly saw the sign to turn right, and saw the trail turning right, yet ignored this in favor of following John into the trees.

I was experiencing a natural human instinct. I had become so focused on doing what John did and following him as the “leader” of our group that I began to ignore what was right in front of me.

This same phenomenon happens in team settings. Someone speaks up to suggest what the group should do or be doing, and then others simply follow with no pushback, disagreement, or discussion.

Worse yet, for the few employees who do challenge this leader, most are dismissed as being “difficult” or “disgruntled.”

The reality is quite the opposite.

The success of a business is not built upon its leaders; it’s built upon the people. Great leaders, whether formally or informally, act as conduits. They offer ideas, support, and feedback, but expect the employees to take the lead.

Are your people over eager to follow? Here is a test you can try.

Ask a few employees if there has ever been something their leader (which might be you!) has ever suggested that they disagreed with. Once they identify something (and there should be something), ask them what they did about it.

  • Did they ask questions?
  • Did they share alternate ideas?
  • Did they push back on the premise?

Or did they simply follow through, all the time feeling more disgruntled and less valuable?

In my experience, virtually every employee has at some point, simply followed through, which is not the culture that you seek if you want to tap into the collective intelligence and power of our team.

My advice?

  • Challenge your people to challenge you
  • Push back if they simply accept your ideas
  • Pose more questions than you do answers

Your team’s independence and creativity depends on it.

© Shawn Casemore 2017. All rights reserved.

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