Sunday, 7 March 2010

Are you a leader or a follower?

This post is inspired by a conversation that I had with two men in my life right now. For those of you who are wondering, no they have not supplanted Andy in my affections; the connection with Michael and Steven is an energetic one and is very exciting because it works on a mind, spirit, emotional and gut level. So much so that my coffee machine blew up when they came over for lunch yesterday! In fact the make of coffee machines is known for going wrong so it is probably unrelated. The three of us spent part of the afternoon discussing our book and what we were going to write about next and I received so many insights on some of the stuff that I am working through right now that I had to share them with you. What it boils down to is this.

We all have a desire to belong, to feel part of a community. To some extent this comes from the parenting we receive which some describe as socialising little people so that they "fit" within society. If you are a parent just think about how much time you spend/ have spent prompting your kids about good manners and saying their ps and qs so to speak. Is it any wonder therefore that when we grow up we start looking for our tribe so that we can say we have found our place? If that motivation is what drives us then we can run into problems. Why? Remember back to when you were a child and you had a secret club with your best friend or a sibling. It might have included your own language and special signs. Whatever was involved, there was bound to be some rites and rituals. When we join groups as an adult, they each have their own rules and these are often unspoken and they are what help to give the group its identity. The problem is that if you then go and challenge them in any way, you too become a threat to the group and its raison d'etre so there is likely to be a strong reaction to you as a way of protecting the group's identity.

In part leading is about challenging the status quo. It is definitely about putting our stake in the ground, saying what we believe in and standing by that even when the response we receive is either hostile or indifferent. Over time, if we are doing that from a place of authenticity then our group of supporters will group but this is not an overnight process and the journey to that place can be hard and lonely. Seth Godin writes that when we lead if we do not feel an edge of discomfort then we are not actually leading.

If this is true then it is not surprising that so few people are prepared to take a stand and be a leader. And yet I believe that each and every one of us has a unique voice that needs to be heard to make this world a better place for us all. It is the role of some to help others find their voice because I believe leadership is like a dance in which we come together and each of us leads the others in one section. To find out more about accessing your authentic voice, check out


  1. Hi Kate -

    This blog post was written for me!!! I just wish I had read it sooner as I have spent weeks going through in my head a little episode that happened just as I stepped down from a volunteering role. I spent the last year Chairing the NCT in my patch and it surprised me greatly just how much people/adults are opposed to rules within a group! In the case of the NCT, there are lots of rules, mainly because it is a charity and breaking the "rules" could risk the whole charity its charitable status. As Chair I was very much aware of this, but it seems I was always up against the general consensus! There general view taken by the majority is that there are so many rules in society do we really need anymore?

    Still, I always tried my best to explain everything openly because I believe in transparency. I also get frustrated when people have misconceptions that are wrong and so did my best to try and explain things more so that people could understand more about how a charity/committee works. I fell at the very last hurdle, when the team put forward some new recommendations for our on-line group, with the aim of creating a more level playing-field. The backlash was severe. People felt they were being dictated to and felt there should have been a vote. As it happens, an elected committee is able to make decisions for the benefit of the whole group on the basis that it is almost impossible to canvass 1,000 people's opinions and come up with something that everyone will agree on. So myself/the team did nothing wrong but the outcome was less than favourable.

    I left my post/position feeling that giving people an explanation was my downfall. As a result of making an unpopular move and spending a year being on the receiving end of some very harsh opinions, I also probably won't volunteer anymore. This is a shame for many reasons, firstly I enjoyed it, secondly it was a good gap filler, thirdly I put tons of time into it to make things better! I am left with a bad taste in my mouth. The bottom line is that people don't like change.

    Your post really struck a cord with me. You say that leading is in part about challenging the status quo, putting our stake in the ground. You are so right. I am also interested in Seth Godwin and his view that when we lead if we do not feel an edge of discomfort than we are actually not leading.

    Can leaders ever be popular? Can you be the boss that everyone likes? Does it matter if not everyone likes us???

    I think in a professional environment being unpopular from time to time comes with the territory. However, as a "volunteer" of a "group" when you do something unpopular it feels like you have been hit sideways as you don't expect people to suddenly turn. But they do and when they do it is mean!!

    And then you finish with your statement that it is not surprising that so few people are prepared to lead - this is also very true! Despite everyone having such a strong opinion no one is prepared to step up and take the challenge themselves!

    Your post has encouraged me (and has in turn made me feel a little less paranoid!) Perhaps what some people do not like is being led - although instead of leading themselves they will always be followers...

    I do wonder, once you have been a leader can you ever become a follower?!

    Thanks again for such an inspirational post!

    I will check out the extra link at the bottom of your post.

    Ren x

  2. Hi Ren lovely to have your comment on this post, I am so delighted that it struck such a chord and gave you so much to reflect on. In answer to your question when we have had the call and take the plunge then I think we always have a tendency towards leading because it is all about finding one's authentic voice and living by it going forward. What does happen though from time to time is that we feel a sense of weariness, exhaustion because it is hard to wade through porridge or stick one's head above the parapet and fear/ actually be shot at. In those moments, there is a tendency to retreat, regroup or simply resource ourselves before taking up the baton again.

    Look after yourself
    Kate xx