Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Followership - a leadership story

Sometimes a leader must be a great follower. Please put your politics aside before reading.

A very important attribute that my wife and I share is a passion for sharing experiences over that of material objects. That being said, the opportunity to visit Washington DC and attend the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama was not to be missed.

I was surprised at the re-enforcing leadership lessons that spoke so loudly to me over and over. It started on the airplane where I met the self-titled “Obama-Mama” taking her three daughters to WDC. Another lady who sat in front of us said she had totaled her car on the way to the Spokane airport. After she was approved to leave by paramedics, she asked the police to have her car impounded and to call her a taxi. It was like this from Orange County to Dallas to WDC/Dulles.

We entered the WDC Metro at 6:00 AM to a “crush” crowd, but people were happy and energized. Everyone helped each other as they headed toward a shared goal to experience an event. We were not there to be up front, but to experience as much as we could and we did. People sang, cheered and smiled. Sure there were some protesters, but they were respectful and fit into the setting.

As a true leader we all must continue to learn from everyone and every event. The last time I saw inspired fans like this, they were entering an NCAA Final Four. Bottom line – we must be able to step back and learn from this extreme example of inspiration.

What leadership inspiration technique, tactic or tool did you learn on 20 January 2009?


Anonymous said...

To create space for passion: It is inspiering to see what happens when only space for passion is created.

Anonymous said...

The leadership inspiration technique, tool, or tactic that I learned was to fall back and make an appearance at a later day. Christ was asked to come to a township by his Disciples. What he did was decline to go with them; however, he did double back behind them at a distance and present himself as a part of the crowd to view the preachings.

Someday I may get to see a Presidential speech but it will be when he is caught off guard .. and not aware ..

Thanks for letting me in ...

Today is the present and tomorrow is a gift,

Anonymous said...

Respect! During the Presidential oath, President Obama hesitated as a couple of words wwere transposed by by Chief Justice John Roberts. Respectfully he stood their with his arm raised and in a subtle way allowed the corrected phrase to be re-said. Roberts gave it another try, getting closer but still not quite right. The President knowingly continued the oath in error out of repect to Roberts. Sometimes for the betterment of the situation, a leader leads without embarassing his people.

J Wong said...

What an amazing experience you must have had. Many of us only had the opportunity to view this historical event on television but you were able to live it fist hand. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. It looked like quite the festival on TV and it was inspiring to see so much of the younger generation being energized and motivated by this leader. Regardless of how you voted, you have to admit it was quite inspirational.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes it's all about timing. However great a leader you are if the timing's not right it won't work. This applies to businesses too in my opinion. If the way that one manages, one's sex or colour doesn't fit at this time then you'd better leave and find a place where the timing is right for you. President Obama is a great leader because he is inspirational - his message is the right one for his time and the USA is ready to accept the message without prejudice. Would this have worked 16 years ago? I personally doubt it.This is not to diminish the achievement in any way, and maybe that sense of achieving the impossible or a collective realisation of the people's power to change things in part create the heady atmosphere. However, I think it is a case of 'Cometh the hour cometh the man'.

Anonymous said...

John, here is an excerpt from my article on Followership.

The point is, to be a leader you must have followers. People who, consciously or unconsciously, have agreed to let you make the critical decisions and then follow those decisions by performing the steps necessary to achieve the stated goal.

The whole article is 5 pages so I won't post it here, but please email me at laudenslager@ mac.com for the full text if your interested.

Anonymous said...

It shows the power of a shared vision with a leader who shows concern and motivates people to take their part in achieving the vision.

Anonymous said...

John, I think throughout the campaign, and especially on Tuesday, Obama demonstrated a number of leadership attributes: Calmness under fire. Conviction. Courage. He's used social media to listen, he's laid out the challenges ahead while being honest about how daunting they are, articulated his vision for solving the issues, and has communicated that there's no challenge we can't overcome, if we work together.

Even if you voted for the other candidate, and I think one must acknowledge that he's taught us all a lesson about leadership.

btw, I agree completely with Allen regarding the need to have followers. I make this, and other related points, in an article I wrote "From Manager to Leader," for PRSA's The Public Relations Strategist. I believe it has some useful lessons, beyond the field of public relations. Here's the link for those who'd like to read it: http://www.prsa.org/supportfiles/news/viewNews.cfm?pNewsID=842347691

Anonymous said...

John and all,

Great comments.

As a Chinese living in the UK, I have followed your country's presidential election and to BO's inauguration with great interest (and emotions). I will remember where I was at 4:30am in the morning when BO won the election and I will remember where I was when he was inaugurated.

I backed my money on Tiger Woods to be the first black president but did not back any money on me living long enough to see him in office. So, I guess you can count me as a believer or follower.

In terms of followership though, I firmly believe there is a danger in following a leader - particularly when it comes to "nation builder" like causes. Leaders come and go, however capable they are (Martin Luther King) and when they're gone, the cause should still be alive and kicking with followers becoming new leaders for the cause.

I do not believe the cause that BO is embarking on will be done in 4 or 8 years time. It is a monumental task to overturn 60 years of growth, market economy, values and lifestyle marketing etc that have created and hardened a global societal psyche which "favour short term prosperity over long term sustainability". i.e. it's not just an American issue, the rest of the world need to play the game too.

So, a cause should not die with it's leader's departure. The sign of a great leader is someone who leads followers to follow the cause and not the leader. How many of us can resist the choice of being the hero?

Anonymous said...

Very well said John. Sitting many miles away in a different time zone, we raced through our work schedules to ensure that we took our seats in front of the television to witness Obama -live. It is the most inspiring leadership lesson so far

John Bishop said...

Another popular topic to discuss. It was interesting how many international comments came in on this posting.

Another observation I noticed in the oath replays was the power of the "pause." There were many ways Obama could have reacted during the oath error - he paused. Never under estimate the value and power of being silent for a couple seconds.

Anonymous said...

Even when you tell the people really what they need and ought to hear, the inevitable cynics still will find reasons or bases (with or without grounding) to criticize leadership, and that even with great speeches, the followers have to follow, and not just listen.

I find it difficult to imagine that ANYONE really can criticize the substance of Obama's inaugural speech, and thus those that tried had to dig to said it was not "memorable" enough and they had expected better, that there was not some easily noted tag line and that was a weakness. Really? I thought the speech was pretty powerful, spoke to the need to address tough problems, put forth an agenda that makes sense, and recognized that such times call for courage and fortitude, for all people to come together.

But even as strong as the speech was, the real test is not Obama's leadership, but the country's followership. Do the millions that showed up that day, actually get some skin in the game and walk Obama's talk. Do they heed his call to service, and do they try to work across conflict to find common ground. If the masses won't actually follow the leader, Obama can talk 'til he is blue in the face and it won't change our reality. However, if those millions just take a step forward together, the impact tremor on the ground will be like thunder, harkening the winds of change.

I think I took away from it - the solutions are ultimately up to us - do we have the courage and fortitude to engage them. I hope we do.

Thanks for the post.

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