Thursday, June 2, 2011
Lead, Follow Or Get The Hell Out Of The Way
First, a little history / background.
I first read this phrase in a book about Jack Welch, the much acclaimed former CEO of General Electric who massively restructured GE and introduced the Motorola Six Sigma management strategy to GE’s workforce.
In his 20 years of tenure as CEO of GE, from 1981 to 2001, the company went from a market value of $14 billion to one of more than $400 billion.
The actual origin of the phrase, however, is attributed mostly to Thomas Paine, but it was popularized by General George S. Patton, who phrased it thus: “We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”
The adage is wildly used in military training and military strategy. Its uses in real life are numerous, but I’d like to focus on one specific area.
Leadership and Decision Making
Often we find ourselves in a position where we’re obstructing progress. It could be obstruction by inaction, procrastination, indecision, fear or anything else. You need to make up your mind if you’re going to be a leader or a follower.
Many times, a decision needs to made, a step needs to be taken, but somehow, nothing is being done because no one is willing to step up and be take responsibility for the action. At the same time, everyone is running around making lots of noise about how it should be done this or that way, and how the repercussions will be dire if so and so handled it. And secretly, they’re hoping they’ll be recognised for their effort.
A classic case in point I’ll give from experience:
This one time we were charged with doing a TV commercial for a client who was launching a new product to the market. As always, we also had to come up with the creative brief as creativity was not the client’s strong point.
So we came up with a few ideas, even did a couple of mockup ads and then went to present it to the client.
What followed was the most mind-numbing approval process we have ever gone through. Because we were dealing with about four people from different departments in the firm, all of them had an opinion, all of them were very vocal, but none of them wanted to take responsibility for a final decision.
Although they all agreed the scripts were good, they could not decide which of the scripts they’d go with, let alone which they’d at least modify for a second mockup.
One of them even said, “There’s something missing, but I don’t know what it is…” and they all nodded in unison.
After much delay, a manager from higher up called us to find out what was happening to the TV ad as they were running behind schedule. We explained the situation, the manager came over personally to our offices, reviewed the ads and scripts, and in about 30 minutes, he had not only decided which one he’d go with, but gave us additional information and someone else to contact if we needed any further material.
The four guys we’d initially dealt with then came back to us and accused us of backstabbing them.
It turns out each of them wanted the glory, should the campaign succeed, but none of them wanted the responsibility and blame, should it fail.
Unfortunately, this is a very common scenario in today’s workplace.
As a leader, you need to be able to accept input from the people around you, but you should also be able to take a firm stand when it comes to decision making, knowing well that you could be right or wrong.
1. If you’re a leader, lead.
It is your place and your responsibility. You stepped up to the challenge, so do your job.
You could be a leader, but if in this situation, it would be more appropriate for you to follow, because someone else is more qualified for the job, then by all means step aside and let them lead, and you follow.
It will not kill your ego, and everyone else will appreciate it.
2. If you’re a follower, follow.
You know you cannot handle the decisions and responsibilities that come with leadership, but think you could be useful to progress, find something you’re good at doing and wait for someone to give you instructions. You will save yourself lots of stress and again, everyone else will appreciate it.
3. If you’re none of these, get the hell out of the way.
Find something else to do that will not interrupt progress. Go make yourself a cup of tea, take an extra biscuit or two, grab a chair and bicker quietly to yourself by the sidelines. Do not stand in the way of others. Get the hell out of the way and let the leaders and followers get the job done.
Audio: Newsboys – Praises (Take My Hand)
Lead, follow, or get out of the way.
- Thomas Paine
We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.
- George S. Patton