Let’s play “Follow the Leader”

follow the leader

Do you remember the game we played as kids called Follow the Leader? I remember it well. The leader would take the followers over the toughest course possible in an effort to find something the others simply couldn’t do. When you reached that point, you essentially won the game. In our yard, the leader would climb the redwood fence and walk along the top for a section or two, jump into the rose bush, shimmy up the swing post and crawl on top of the swing, fall face first into the mud puddle, chase the neighbor’s mad dog, then race over and back across the street dodging traffic in an effort to find something the other kids could not do. Needless to say, we were reckless… but, competitive!

Let’s take a look at this game from the perspective of adults striving to be successful in today’s competitive corporate world or in any other situation involving leaders and followers. We’ll look at the game from both perspectives…

Being a good Follower

  1. A good follower keeps the ultimate target in view – When we participate on a team, group, or family, there is usually a target or purpose for what we do. It is important, as a follower, that we understand our purpose and keep our eyes focused on it.
  2. A good follower is focused on the leader – Followers need to trust their leader. Unless we remain focused on the leader, we are likely to take our own path which may not be the proper path. Keep your eyes on the one you are trusting to take you to the end.
  3. A good follower supports both the team effort and individual members – When we support others, we all become better. A good follower understands that no individual can truly be successful unless the team succeeds.
  4. A good follower is competitive – A good follower is driven to win! And, that desire to win will drive the follower to support the team, pull more that their share of the effort, and never give up.
  5. A good follower communicates vertically and horizontally – A good follower is in constant communication both with his/her teammates and the leader. A good follower also is not afraid to voice an opinion and avoid group think. The best teams are the sum of the best parts of the individual members working together.
  6. A good follower remains optimistic even in the face of adversity – Never give up! Many victories have been won simply because the team failed to consider defeat.
  7. A good follower does more than their own fair share – When each member does their share and more, the output of the team multiplies. The best teams apply the rule of multiplication, not addition.
  8. A good follower stays committed to the end – Good followers do not desert the team. They stay focused and dedicated all the way across the finish line.
  9. A good follower is loyal first to the team – Loyalty builds trust and the best teams trust the most.
  10. A good follower is intellectually involved – A good follower is never afraid to speak up when needed. He/She will not just blindly follow without being invested fully.
  11. A good follower has fun – The best teams enjoy what they do… they have fun! A good follower is not afraid to express humor and enjoy the journey.

Being a good Leader

There is much to learn from Follow the Leader for us today. Imagine, in our game of Follow the Leader, that all the followers are blindfolded. They cannot see the leader. What kind of result would you expect? Here are a few key components of a good leader:

  1. A good leader casts a vision – It is important for any team or group to understand where they are going and what it is they hope to accomplish. Without a vision, the members and team will tend to flounder and quickly fall off track. And, members will lose interest.
  2. A good leader is visible – You can’t be a good leader unless you are seen. Members need to personally experience your vision, your character, and they queue off your actions.
  3. A good leader communicates – Team members must hear from the leader. Thus, a good leader does not assume that members have all the information they need. It is always better to over-communicate.
  4. A good leader gets personally involved – The very best leaders are not afraid to get their own hands dirty. They are willing to fall into the mud hole, if needed. Member needs to see that the leader is personally invested in the result and will do whatever it takes to achieve the goal.
  5. A good leader is bold – A good leader will take reasoned risks. Winners do not always just play it safe. Sometimes, you need to go outside the normal boundaries to achieve what is needed… even if it involves some personal risk.
  6. A good leaders thinks outside the box – Good leaders often offer or solicit unique approaches to problems. Looking at situations from unusual viewpoints is often needed to see a new approach.
  7. A good leader is encouraging – Good leaders constantly encourage the members of the team. They understand that the best performance only occurs when members are constantly motivated and feel their efforts are appreciated.
  8. A good leader is competitive – The best leaders hate to lose! And, to win, they know that progress needs to occur every day. Finding a way to be better, cheaper, and faster is a constant motivation.
  9. A good leader allows individuality and creativity – A good leader allows members to flourish individually, provided that individual results help, not hamper, the team. Allowing creativity encourages synergism.
  10. A good leader celebrates individual and team successes – A good leader knows that victory doesn’t come every day. Thus, he/she knows that when victories do come, they need to be celebrated.
  11. A good leader has fun – Individuals follow a leader best when they feel fulfilled and have fun. Making the effort fun is essential for success.

Each of us functions as a follower and a leader. So, it is good to refresh our understanding of what it takes, from both perspectives, to be completely successful. Just like the Follow the Leader game we played as kids, life demands that we embrace our roles and play them well for the team or group to be successful.

Think about your own situation as a follower or leader. Are you good at those roles? What do you need to do differently to be better starting tomorrow?

When relentless becomes reckless

hummingbird

Successful individuals are often described as “relentless” in their pursuit of victory, completion of a difficult task, or dedication to an effort.  I have historically viewed a relentless person as one that has strong positive character traits, but I think it is possible to take relentlessness too far. The dictionary definition of relentlessness is “…unyieldingly severe, strict, merciless, rigid, or harsh.” So, is relentlessness good or can it be harmful? When does relentless become reckless? Let’s explore this…

I have had the occasion to watch hummingbirds visit a feeder at my home. Last year was a banner year for hummingbirds judging by their numbers. Anyway, our feeder has four slots where birds can hover and drink a sugary liquid. They can also visit flowers nearby. I would term the hummingbirds as relentless in their pursuit of food. They spend nearly all day coming to the feeder or flowers and seem to have few other interests. They have some rests from these efforts, but they are few and they don’t last long. Perhaps, hummingbirds must be relentless in order to survive. Despite this, hummingbirds exhibit a sense of caution. When feeding, they are constantly alert for danger and quickly flee when spooked.

There are also humans that have this same “relentlessness” in their pursuits. Some think of their work or career pursuits 24/7. I recently heard of one CEO of a start-up company that intentionally sent texts or email messages to applicants at odd hours (such as 9pm on a Saturday night or 11am on a Sunday morning) to test their responsiveness. If they failed to respond within three hours, they “did not fit the culture” desired by the CEO. When relentlessness goes too far, it becomes an obsession or an addiction… it becomes reckless. And, when that occurs, the individual’s life gets out-of-balance.

So, is “relentlessness” a good or bad trait? I think, like so many other things, that anything we do to the extent that it harms other areas of our life is bad. When we pursue our career to the detriment of our family, we have gone too far and recklessly endanger our relationships. Going too far is missing most of the key life events of our children, neglecting our spouse, or failing to nurture other relationships. However, being relentless (or undeterred) in completing a specific task is probably a good thing. For example, if you have a critical assignment that must be completed on schedule, it pays to be relentless in completing the task on time.

There are other examples of relentlessness that are admirable. Most of us have heard of or know individuals that have suffered a severe health crisis, yet were relentless to overcome the adversity they experienced. So, in many ways, being relentless to accomplish a specific task is a good thing. However, being described as a relentless person (that is, one that pursues something “in an unyieldingly severe, strict, merciless, rigid, or harsh” manner) with no regard for balance is probably a negative thing.

Here are a few character attributes that we should strive to exhibit in our lives that communicate in the same way as relentlessness:

  • Persistent – ability to stick to a task until it is completed, even in the face of failure
  • Diligent – can be relied upon to complete assignments in a high-quality manner
  • Reliable – true to their word
  • Dedicated – committed
  • Focused – aligned with the target at hand

We should pursue “appropriate and timely” relentlessness. We should also be aware that even the hummingbird takes a break. Relentlessness must be used only for important tasks or efforts. It is difficult to sustain indefinitely.

Crossing the line of relentlessness to recklessness is a small step. When we do, we become:

  • Careless – sloppy, ignoring appropriate risk
  • Thoughtless – lost focus on the target or goal
  • Impetuous – petty and wasting time on unimportant tasks
  • Impulsive – jumping to conclusions or irrational actions
  • Irresponsible – failing to fulfill basic or expected responsibilities
  • Foolhardy – making unforced errors

Bottom line… we should be relentless to accomplish needed tasks when they are important, meaningful, and impactful to ourselves or others. However, exercise the caution of the hummingbird… be alert. Don’t cross the line from relentless to reckless.

 

 

Someday, “the last time” really will be the last time

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The other day, my wife was holding our four-year-old grandson on her lap reading a book. Typically, he has too much energy running around the house to slow down for a book, but this time, he remained quiet and interested as she read. I made the comment to her that someday soon, he won’t be interested enough to sit on her lap and read… someday soon will be the last time.

Have you ever paused during an event and savored it as probably being the ‘last time’? Often, we don’t realize until later that ‘that was the last time we ever…”. There are times, however, when we know for sure we are experiencing one. I remember my son’s last football game in high school. It was a year end elimination game and it became obvious early in the second half that his team would not advance to the next game. I remember lingering on the field after the game well after the teams had left the field. But, I just couldn’t leave because I knew I was experiencing a bittersweet ‘last time’.

I remember the night before the weddings of each of my daughters thinking, “This is the last day before I place my daughter’s hand into that of another. I remember the last day I had my dog Rudy, knowing he would be gone the next day. That night, Rudy was allowed to eat anything he wanted!

More frequently, we only realize later that the ‘last time’ was the last time. I remember saying goodbye to friends or colleagues not knowing this was likely the last time we would ever see each other. Who could have known that two of my basketball teammates would play well in their last game before they would die? How was I supposed to know the last time I ever hit a home run in baseball? Somehow, we think that things will always be the same, but life just keeps moving along.

My intent today is not to discourage, but to encourage you. I am merely reminding us all that we should never take the good things of life for granted. Let’s be aware of life’s changes and savor them. Let’s live in such a way that we don’t look back with regret. After all…

  • Someday, your last child will ‘leave the nest’
  • Someday, you will change a diaper for the last time
  • Someday, when you hang up the phone, you’ll be thinking of that last time with someone you love
  • Someday, that last day at work will usher in a whole new chapter of your life, hopefully, filled with ‘first times’
  • Someday, you will play catch with your son or daughter for the last time
  • Someday, you will sitting around a table laughing about those stories he used to tell
  • Someday, you will make a mortgage payment for the last time
  • Someday, you will walk for the last time without help
  • Someday…

But, for today, let’s make the most of what life brings. Let’s not worry about tomorrow. Today is the only day we have been promised. So, make a call, write a letter, schedule some fun, play hide-n-go-seek, and savor the minutes because we never know when the last time might really be ‘the last time’.