Leading and following – listening and speaking.

995844_583459828415490_1933985394_nIn our last blog we wrote about the importance of finding sufficient support if you are in a leadership role – whether that be the leading of others, or leading yourself forward in your life. We need to take in as much as we give out if we are to lead effectively and sustainably. In the same way that it is necessary to have vision and passion to be a good leader, receiving support is utterly essential. They are two sides of the same coin.

In this blog we explore two other areas related to leadership where we tend to emphasise one side and ignore the other.

The first is leading and following. Clearly a good leader needs to be able to step up and lead – however, we believe they also need to have the capacity to follow. We believe the animal instinct of the ‘alpha female’ or the ‘alpha male’ is hard wired into us from our animal past. For example think of the way there is an agreement between pack animals that there is a ‘top dog’ which the others look up to and follow. However, in our society, we sometimes try to ‘rise above’ this instinct, wanting everyone to be equal in every respect and not acknowledging that we are hard wired either to lead or be lead. This denial of the need for leadership can sometimes have disastrous results – many of us have experienced committees which go round and round in circles never making a clear decision and wasting precious time and resources. In Shadow Work we believe it’s better to acknowledge this instinct to lead or follow, and allow this to happen.90px-Little_boy_leading_camel However, the distinction is that these both need to happen equally in each person. We all need to be able to lead and follow in different situations, at different times in our lives, and in different areas of our lives. We need to be comfortable in both roles if we are to lead effectively. For example – someone leading a team at work and giving a lot of guidance and support to others may also need to be following an on-line course related to the project she’s leading, she may need to follow her yoga teacher at class in the evenings, or she may be taking advice from a friend around coping with her teenage son’s challenging behaviour. At work she may also need to allow another colleague to lead for a day if some input is required from his area of expertise. On this day she will be following him. We believe this ability to move easily, comfortably and appropriately between leading and following is essential for healthy leadership.

a1 Climbing_Parapet‘I must follow the people – am I not their leader?’  ~Benjamin Disraeli ~

‘Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.’       ~General George Patton~

He who has learned how to obey will know how to command.’  ~Solon~

The second area is listening and speaking. In many high pressure situations the leaders word has to be law. We really need to know who the leader is and to trust them. However, their word, if it is to be trusted, will have been formed after much careful listening – both to other members of the group, and also to external sources. If a leader cannot listen carefully then their word, their decision isn’t whole and complete. It may be strongly spoken, but it is brittle and fragile if it is not well informed. Listening in leadership is equally as important as speaking.


Winston Churchill said ‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.’

We need to know who is leading at any particular time. However, we also see leadership as a two way process between the ‘leader’ and the ‘followers’. The leader needs the support and the blessing of their followers. The followers need to be supported by their leader. The leader needs to listen to the followers and to speak their decisions. The followers need to speak to the leader and share their thoughts and opinions and they need to listen to the leaders final word. The leader needs to be able to follow at times and the followers need to be able to lead at times. This is our model of healthy sustainable leadership, which includes everyone and harnesses and works with all our natural resources.


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