“Whether you lead or follow, do it with intention.”
Have you ever been to the Opera? O.K. I realize that going to the opera is not everybody’s bag but maybe you’ve at least been to a performance of any kind in a large theater. Recently, I went to see Seattle Opera present “Madam Butterfly”. It was a tremendous performance. Seattle Opera is truly outstanding and I always feel so privileged to watch the best of the best perform their craft.
What I found most curious to me came after the show. For this performance, we were up on the third tier of magnificent McCaw Hall in Seattle. As we, the audience, began our slow shuffle towards the exit, I noticed that we were all moving toward the same stair case which led to the main floor and to the outside. Noticing the slow pace of movement, I found myself interested in moving more quickly than the crowd would allow.
I looked around and noticed at the other end of the hall was another stair case that led down to the first floor and the exit doors. It was virtually empty! So I made like a wild salmon and headed up stream for about a 30 second detour, reached the nearly empty staircase, then down the stairs and voila! I was outside. I looked back and noticed that everybody was still shuffling along to the other stair case. What was perhaps more amazing to me was that even the people who were close to the empty stair case just followed the crowd into the congestion. For them, a simple glance away from the crowd would have manifested a quick and easy route to the street AND less congestion for everybody else.
What does this example have to do with leadership? Well, here is my leadership invitation for you. It’s not that following the crowd is always bad or that going your own way is always well advised. I’m using this example as a metaphor and to offer you an opportunity to ponder your approach to your leadership. Are there times when you automatically follow the crowd at work? Do you blindly follow the competition and call it innovation? Do you hold back when you know that you have something to offer because nobody else is speaking up? Are you missing opportunities while you focus straight ahead on the well traveled path instead of taking a moment to pause and consider your options, your plan or your desired approach?
As we lead, sometimes we absolutely need to support the ideas of others. Intentionally supporting is another form of leadership. If everybody went running in whatever direction that they wanted all the time, then there would be chaos. Sometimes we may have a brilliant opportunity right in front of us if we are willing to pause, look around and question the direction of the crowd. You have to decide when it is right for you. My invitation to you, whether you are following another, supporting a group idea, or exploring a new direction, is to do it with intention.
I understand that sometimes it’s not safe to break from the pack. For sure, at times there is wisdom in staying together. AND please realize that there’s nothing “safe” about leadership. Leadership is risky. Leadership requires doing what others may not be willing or able to do. Anybody who has lead anything knows that leading can be dangerous, lonely and certainly scary. Consciously leading when others just don’t or just won’t can manifest unique paths and offer great learning for personal and organizational growth (or in my case, a more efficient and stress free exit from the theater and to the car).
Be aware that you have options. Be intentional about creating possibilities. Choose and act mindfully.
Thank you for reading and please share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.
Warm wishes for great success and happiness on your leadership journey!
Larysa Slobodian, MA