Unleashing Potential – Part 2 (Becoming a Better Follower)

The age-old business challenge: how to get the most out of people? We all know the different kinds of leaders from the coercive drivers, authoritarian rulers, coaching / affiliative partners, and so forth. A lot of good material is written on these archetypes and how to become a better leader. What I’d like to briefly share, however, is a slightly different twist: How to become a better follower.

Not in a passive sheep-like sort of way, of course. In this context, I use the term follower to mean one observing and being attentive. The most successful leaders are, in fact, the most adroit followers. And in addition to being very good at following the various characteristics and potential opportunities of their particular market segment(s), they are extremely effective at following (observing) people, especially themselves.

What does it mean to “follow oneself”? Self-awareness. As Daniel Goleman eloquently states:

Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, as well as one’s strengths and limitations and one’s values and motives. People with strong self-awareness are realistic – neither overly self-critical nor naively hopeful. Rather, they are honest with themselves about themselves. And they are honest about themselves with others, even to the point of being able to laugh at their own foibles.1

But another key characteristic of self-aware people is the ability to tune into others. And tuning in to others gives us the ability to understand them – which of course leads to the opportunity to empathize, motivate, and enthuse.

How do you get started becoming self-aware? It starts by honestly looking inward. It also helps to have what I call a personal advisory board. I liken this to a board of directors, where the company is You, Inc. These directors have “joined” because of what they can offer, and they have a vested interest in the success of the company (you).

Your personal advisory board can help you vet ideas, provide advice and guidance, create connections, etc. But, the board’s real power lies in its capability to help you grow you. We all have our obvious strengths and developmental opportunities. But we also all have what are known as hidden strengths and invisible blind spots. These “don’t know what we don’t know” areas provide the fertile ground for substantial growth.

Once you’ve begun tapping into the unlimited potential of You, Inc., the ability to help grow others flourishes by design. And when you can get an entire organization of people who are excited, motivated, and driven to realize the vision you help articulate, you’ve not only unleashed incredible potential, but you’ve also become a world-class follower that others want to access.

1Goleman, Daniel; Boyatzis, Richard; McKee, Annie; Primal Leadership – Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence; Harvard Business School Press; 2013

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