A zen saying goes roughly like this: “The use of the wheel is where all the spokes form to make the hole.” Another: “The most useful part of a bowl is the empty space within.” As a leader, my role hasn’t been to necessarily build things, but to facilitate the best in the people I led, to remove obstacles, and to encourage them. Nothing I did was very special. What I did was reflect your greatness back to you.
By way of several layers of reading this morning (EMS Safety Culture and LeanBlog) I reflected on W. Edwards Deming’s statements on the sources of a leader’s power. Deming stated that while leaders tend to possess the authority required to do their jobs, it is more their power of persuasion and their knowledge that influences others and is an impetus for change. I would suggest that “authority” is even less important than we realize; we probably all know at least one or two individuals who exert change even without authority, simply be virtue of their ability and their personality.
Leading from a peer or subordinate position isn’t desirable, but it is possible. Your role is defined by the example you set of “followership”. A good “follower” takes the time to learn their job and do it well, to the point where they don’t require continued remediation. It requires doing your job with passion. And most of all, it requires putting your effort into eliminating obstacles for your leaders. What is that, you ask? Well, good followers come to their supervisors with workable solutions. They anticipate needs, they seek improvement. They defend any change necessary by showing where it affects the customer positively, and how they can improve the organizational situation by improving their position to serve the customer best.
Apparently there are some Canadians who feel this quote by Wayne Gretzky is overused, but he once said: “Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.” They’ll have to get over it, because I like it. But the reason I share it with you is that as followers and as leaders, we have to work together as a team to develop the best outcome for the customer. Be it a fire, a medical emergency, or just managing our budget, the effort isn’t just on the leader or the follower. In the real world, we have to look out for one another, be able to “pass the puck” to a person in a better position to score if necessary, or be in position for someone to pass it to us, or to intercept it and come up with a new solution. Standing around and waiting for orders isn’t followership. Giving orders and not influencing or teaching, without allowing the followers to develop their abilities isn’t leading.
There is a middle way we have to find, and each of you, if you are seeking excellence, need to find that spot and ride it.