True leaders create leaders, not followers

Some people believe that leaders need followers. We disagree. 

We believe that:

True leaders create leaders, not followers.

Why is this? 

When times are stable, aligning the organisation around the vision of a single person or leadership team provides focus and momentum. Like a supertanker, it enables all the resources to head in the same direction, at the same speed, at the same time, and all can be controlled by a single hand on the wheel.

But when times are churning, the ability to adapt becomes paramount.

To survive in a time of change, the organisation’s ability to change must be greater than the rate of change in the marketplace.

If not, an organisation whose ability to change is less than the rate of change in the marketplace will inevitably get left behind.

For an organisation of followers, the ability to change is limited to the capacity of a single person or leadership team. When change is slow this does not matter. But when technologies, customer needs, suppliers, competitors, legislation, the economic environment, and climate are all changing at once a single team or leader cannot know all the details — and can easily become overwhelmed by what they do know. 

Worse than this, followers are dependent — they need to be told what to do. So an organisation of followers creates extra workload on the already-stretched leader, reducing their capacity to handle change.

The leader becomes a bottleneck. And the result is stagnation.

But leaders who create more leaders increase the capacity of every person to manage their own change. That reduces the workload on the leader. Appropriate issues can still be escalated, but now not every issue needs to be escalated. 

And if every person in the organisation has read Inner Leadership and knows not only how to remain calm and find their own solutions but also how to find more opportunities and then inspire themselves and others to do what needs to be done then the organisation faces a new problem: how to choose between and coordinate multiple opportunities.

By increasing the number of leaders, the capacity for change in the organisation increases exponentially.

And a leader who has created leaders instead of followers frees up their own capacity to deal with this new ‘problem’.

Leaders who create more leaders turn their organisation from a hard-to-turn supertanker into a fleet of agile speedboats. In a world of unpredictable rocks and shoals, this is useful.

More than that, leaders who create more leaders make themselves, their people, and their organisations antifragile: able to use change to become stronger.

Do the people around you encourage you to become a better follower or a better leader? What do you encourage in others? With the changes you see on the horizon, one year from now do you want to be working in a team of followers or a team of leaders?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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(And remember: you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also need to practice.)

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