Follow-Worthy Leaders Do This

Much has been written and talked about on the importance of leading others. But what about leading ourselves? Our ability to self-lead has clear links to our ability to lead others and ultimately achieve success in whatever endeavor we undertake – whether at the gym, on the court or field, at work, home, play or study.

As the age-old saying goes, sometimes we are our “own worst enemy.” This is because we forget to take care of ourselves in the daily grind to lead our teams and our organizations.

It seems obvious to say that if we don’t eat, drink, or breathe, we don’t live. But I introduce this idea to lead us to two more obvious points:

  1. If we don’t learn, we can’t grow.
  2. If we don’t grow, we can’t grow others.  

It was Marshall Goldsmith, popular leadership coach and author of What Got you Here Won’t Get You There, who said:

To help others develop, start with yourself.

I once heard John Maxwell, another popular leadership coach, author, and pastor offer this idea about the importance of taking care of ourselves:

If you’ve ever flown, you’ve heard a flight attendant say, ‘If you are traveling with children or seated next to someone who needs assistance, place the mask on yourself first, and then offer assistance.’

This is a simple metaphor for our lives reminding us that in order to help others we must first take care of ourselves. As I reflect on this idea, I find there are three things we must do:

  1. Eat well and exercise
    • Self-focus on the body. What we consume and how we exercise affects our health, which in turn impacts our ability to put forth our best every day. When we are called to lead, and tested to our very limits, we must be ready and able to endure. Being ready requires eating and drinking right, avoiding anything harmful, and routinely doing something physically active that keeps us moving. Successful leaders are healthy individuals. 
  2. Study and hone your craft
    • Self-focus on the mind. Whatever field or industry we select, we must build a strong foundation of knowledge and skills in order to compete. But if we want to do more than just compete – that is, win – and help others do the same, we must recognize that our expertise is only as sharp as the last time it was sharpened. Our responsibility is to never stop learning. We should set aside time weekly for purposeful self-improvement, whether through independent study, participating in experiences outside of our comfort zones, or actively learning from peers and mentors. Leaders who can learn are leaders who can teach.
  3. Reflect quietly
    • Self-focus on the spirit. Quiet reflection can take many forms: prayer, meditation, sleep, a conversation with a loved one, a walk in the park, and others. However we do it, the key is to pause and let the world around us settle. This allows us to regroup and settle ourselves. And it is in these quiet times when we can hear our inner-voices, see the impacts of our choices, and when clarity engulfs us and we suddenly feel able – once again – to take on the world. A leader who is lost can find their way in a mirror.

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour. ~ Old Zen adage

When I think back on situations when I was least effective as a leader I recognize those as times when I wasn’t taking care of myself. I know it is easy to lose self-focus in the hustle and bustle of daily life. I also know that’s a mistake.

The harsh reality is that, despite hierarchy and formal authority, people choose whether or not to follow someone. Therefore, in order to lead others, we must offer something worthy of following. And to be follow-worthy we take care of our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. Doing so allows us to offer our very best while leading ourselves, and others, to success.


When Working Together Works

fortunecookieToday’s post is brought to you by a fortune cookie. No joke. Just recently, I visited a new Asian-themed restaurant in town, and as you might expect, I had my fortune told to me by a cookie.

My fortune?

Working Together Works

Okay, sure. I guess. Not really a fortune, per se, but certainly a nice idea. Yet, as I drove home from dinner, my “fortune” safely tucked away in my pocket, I pondered this bit of fortune-cookie-wisdom and found myself actually disagreeing, thinking of all the reasons why working together does not, in fact, work.

Not sure why my dial was turned to negative thoughts this particular evening. Maybe I was annoyed at being gypped out of an actual fortune by my cookie. Or, more likely, perhaps it was because I’d recently encountered a number of team situations that simply did not work.

What happened?

When Working Together Does Not Work

There are many barriers to teams working effectively, but one particular idea comes to mind: Working together does not work when everyone agrees.

I’ll admit, this seems counter-intuitive. I mean, don’t we want people to agree? Is agreement not important for moving a project forward? Sure, except when that agreement results in a less-than-great decision.

We’ve all seen it. The first idea thrown out by the most vocal, assertive, and confident team member is selected. Either because the other team members are still chewing on their own ideas and not ready to throw them into the mix, or because they are afraid of creating conflict by lobbing a second or third idea, implying the first one was not good.

Of course, by agreeing too quickly we run the risk of leaving new, innovative and possibly better ideas uncovered and unexplored.

So, how can we avoid agreement? Simple.

When Working Together Works


Some call it a “Devil’s Advocate.” Others, a “Dedicated Dissenter”, or “Challenger.” Whatever you call it, the idea is to publicly assign someone the job of disagreeing.

Their role is to, no matter what, disallow any kind of agreement. Only for a reasonable period of time, of course. They can’t go on disagreeing forever; nothing would ever get done.

By assigning this role you free everyone up from hard feelings.This certainly requires that everyone knows about it; no secrets here. Because when the challenger gets going everyone will think, “Okay, she’s just doing her job. Cool.”

The benefit of this dedicated dissenter is it forces the team members to think of more ideas and it invites multiple perspectives. Encouraging disagreement inspires critical thinkingFurther, it forces individuals to put forth and fight for their own ideas, yet also consider them from all angles.

By the time this period of “invited disagreement” ends (let’s say 20 minutes, for example), you should expect to find multiple thoughtful ideas on the table. And you can feel confident that a great idea is ripe for the picking.

Give it a try. Or don’t, if you don’t agree.

Okay fortune cookie, you win. I agree, after all. Working together does work, as long as we first agree to disagree.


Follow by Example


Why do we use phrases like “if you’re not a leader, you’re a follower” and “be a leader, not a follower?” Why is being a follower so bad? Captain Kirk could never have boldly gone where no one had gone before without a team of talented, dedicated, and mindful individuals…or followers.

Read my Lead Change Group post Follow by Example for why I think we need to take back the term “follower,” how I think we should treat our followers, and what’s required to be an effective follower.