In November 2014 I wrote blogs on leadership and followership. I asked the question, what are leaders without followers? As I re-read both posts this week, I realized that they still hold true and still resonate with me. However over the past several months I have discovered yet another aspect of what it means to be a great leader.
What if you are not in a role where there are followers? Well you can, as I wrote in November 2014, provide leadership through your consulting or coaching practice (or anything else, for that matter) by Modeling the Way in what you are doing (Kouzes and Posner). You can also become a resource for leadership through mentorship. This has been highlighted by the idea of showing leadership by creating leaders, a concept that has been attributed to a diverse list of people including Tom Peters, Ralph Nader and even Mahatma Gandhi. My guess is that it goes back much further than those individuals.
Ekaterina Walter in a 2013 Inc Magazine article stated “Truly amazing leaders empower others to become leaders. Their higher goal is to work themselves out of the job so that if they are not around, the organization functions just as successfully as when they are”. Jeff Mask in a Huffington Post article titled ‘Why Good Leaders Have Followers and Great Leaders Make More Leaders’ stated “If you want to build a company that is enduring, having good leaders is not enough. You must build a culture of leadership throughout your organization that cultivates great leaders”. The conclusion is that being a leader by having followers is not good enough, it goes beyond that, it involves creating, mentoring and growing potential leaders to continue and even improve upon the work you have done.
If you think about it, it’s not that different from master craftsmen who teach trades to their young apprentices. I’ve read some amazing stories of how ancient stone masons taught their students to become craftsmen in their own right and even to better them as they built the great cathedrals throughout Europe. Before the advent of trades programs in schools, this is how skills were handed down from generation to generation. I wonder if in today’s world of ultra-competitiveness we have lost this idea of true mentorship. How many of today’s leaders are so worried about their own security and positions that they are afraid of being replaced by the “new kid” coming up behind them? In reality we need those experienced, hard-worn leaders to take high potentials under their wings, share what they know and even, as with the old-world stonemasons, be proud as their prodigies surpass the masters’ skills and go on to become great leaders in their own right.
As we look at Leadership from the 35,000 foot level, it encompasses so much that you can recognize why it has become such a huge topic. It is not just about followers but also about how we, as leaders today develop the leaders of tomorrow.
John Whitehead, coaches’ individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.
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