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Dynamic Following April 6, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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I recently finished reading Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie.  An entertaining, quick read with many quirky illustrations by the author, the book recounts MacKenzie’s long career as a rebellious creator within the staid corporate world of Hallmark Cards.  He neatly summarizes the world of corporate conformity and suggests many ways to succeed and even thrive in spite of the pressure to conform.  Having spent 10 years in a rebellious R&D group within the confining structure of Harris Corporation, I immediately related to MacKenzie’s stories and advice.

Towards the end of his career at Hallmark, MacKenzie became something of a Dutch uncle to many employees who would come to vent and cry on his shoulder with their concerns.  He related one incident where a frustrated employee came to him, shared their problems, and concluded with “I wish we had some dynamic leadership around here!”  MacKenzie immediately replied with “I wish we had some dynamic following around here!”

Yes!  Absolutely!  His response perfectly summarizes the frustrations many of us have as leaders. Dynamic leaders don’t get very far without people who can creatively, aggressively, and enthusiastically solve all the problems that accompany any initiative, big or small.  It is the dynamic followers who get the job done, not the dynamic leader.

As leaders, we cannot possibly imagine everything that will come up on the long journey between where we are and where we need to be.  If our teams expect us to spell out every potential problem and solution, we’ll never get started, let alone finish.  If they wait for our direction with every new challenge that crops up, they’ll be waiting a long time. Instead, we need teams that can roll with the punches, find clever solutions, solve problems, and keep moving.

The military teaches this as a fundamental skill.  Every military operation begins breaking down moments after it starts.  Successful engagements are marked by soldiers who assess the problem, react accordingly, keep moving, and never lose sight of the goal.  While our day-to-day jobs don’t carry the life-and-death concerns of a military engagement, we can still encourage our people to behave in a similar way.

The key to this is clearly defining the goal.  When a team knows where it needs to go, they can quickly solve local problems in ways that keep them heading in the right direction.  When the goal is unclear, they may be unable to react or even worse, their local solutions may actually be counterproductive.  As leaders, we need to constantly communicate our vision and communicate with our people to make sure they understand it.

Except for those at the very bottom or top of the org chart, we are all leaders and followers. As leaders, we need to engage and coach our teams to be good followers.  As followers ourselves, we need to demonstrate dynamic following so that our people can see how it should be done.  Don’t make the mistake of demanding dynamic following from your people while you sit like a lump, waiting for your boss to tell you what to do.  Be a dynamic leader and a dynamic follower, and you’ll be well on your way to being a success.

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