True leaders create leaders, not followers

Some people believe that leaders need followers. We disagree. 

We believe that:

True leaders create leaders, not followers.

When times are stable, aligning the organisation around the vision of a single person or leadership team provides focus and momentum. One person can do the thinking and the rest can simply follow. Like a supertanker, this 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 adapt has to be greater than the rate of change in the marketplace.

And an organisation whose ability to adapt is less than the rate of change in the marketplace will inevitably get left behind.

For an organisation of followers, the ability to adapt is limited to the capacity of a single individual or leadership team. When the rate of change is slow this enough. But when the changes include technology, customer needs, suppliers, competitors, legislation, the economic environment, and climate all at once then a single team or leader cannot know all the details and can easily become overwhelmed by what they do know. 

On top of this, followers 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.

They become a bottleneck.

The result is stagnation.

But leaders who create more leaders increase the ability of every person to manage their own change. That shares out the workload across the organisation.

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

Increasing the number of leaders, increases the organisation’s capacity for change exponentially.

And leaders who create more leaders transform their organisation from a slow-to-turn supertanker into a fleet of speedboats. In a world filled with increasing numbers of rocks and shoals and opportunities this is useful.

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 leadership or followership? What do you encourage in them? A year from now what will you need more of?

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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