lead follow lead

Lead Follow Lead

Tim Yo was dying of Lymphoma. He had been my best friend, my mentor and my biggest antagonist. The relationship was complicated at best and for a year we hadn’t even talked to each other. Then I got the message. This was it. Tim’s fight with Lymphoma was nearing the end. It was now or never.

As we talked by phone, he told me that he was still afraid for my soul.  He envisioned me lost in a capitalist daydream. While he was trying to spread the word that money was the root of evil, I was busy being successful. Very successful. What had happened to me and how would I redeem myself?

“You used to want to change the world.”  came from Tim as an accusation.

“I know, Tim. My company is thriving. Everyone who works there is energized and excited. I am busy raising a young family as well. Heck, that is another part of the success I am living. If I am not changing the world now, perhaps I can later.  I don’t know. ”

“Children and money are a distraction from being a leader of real change.” He countered.

“ Maybe so. If that is true then I’ll be distracted for a while. ” I reconciled.

Tim died within the week. But that conversation pops up now that my nest is emptying and my business has changed.  In its essence, I believe that this is the leadership insight from that conversation:

You don’t know you are leading when you are doing it.

I was doing it. I was busy learning about creating a successful business culture and learning about parenting. It has now occurred to me that there is a problem that this insight illuminates.

Leaders (with a capital L) want everyone to think they have the secret leadership sauce. But when I look at myself as a leader, all I see is an effort to get closer to, more intimate with and more vulnerable with the people I’m supposed to be leading; like my friends, employees and children. I actually can’t always see the difference between leading and following on most days.

Thus the problem with the leadership conversation we’ve been having lately is that there is too much distance between leaders and followers. Leadership is becoming rarified and commoditized.  I am fatigued with the gazillions of instructions, studies, reports, programs, degrees, experts and gurus.

Servant Leadership …Disruptive Leadership… Tribal Leadership… Transformational Leadership… Visionary Leadership… Charismatic Leadership…. Humble Leadership… Strengths Leadership… Passionate Leadership …. Primal Leadership…

Ughhhhh! (That is my primal, tribal, strong, transformational scream.) What is Leadership with a capital L? Why are we discussing it when we intuitively know that creating change is a collective exercise? In fact, it seems circular: the more I lead -the more I follow. The more I follow,  the more inspired I am to lead. Today I lead. Tomorrow it’s you.

Thus the problem with the leadership conversation we’ve been having lately is that there is too much distance between leaders and followers. Leadership is becoming rarified and commoditized.

The new paradigm is fluid like floating (I imagine) in zero gravity. It is transparent like air. It is addressing the needs of the moment.  Ultimately, will this make the language of leadership obsolete?

It’s been 16 years since Tim’s death. I’m starting to see that everything I created then, has lead me to a passion to change the way we organize and talk about leadership now. Want to change the world? Yes! Knowing you are doing it? Probably not. Rather than talking about leadership. Let’s embody it, shall we?


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Image credit: alekup / 123RF Stock Photo

Ruth spent 25 years in the music industry. In that time she created a $10 mil distribution company where everyone was a contributing partner in the business. After selling that business she became a business coach, speaker, trainer and enthusiast for working with successful entrepreneurs and business leaders who are tired of task and employee management are ready to lead the work revolution. Schwartz chronicles her success in the book, The Key to the Golden Handcuff’s – Stop Being a Slave to Your Business. Tthe book gives entrepreneurs and executives a recipe to create a transparent, open-book company of their own design. Ruth is a member of Toastmasters, the National Speakers’ Association, The International Coach Federation and The Experts Association.

  • http://www.skipprichard.com/ Skip Prichard

    In tragedy you still find a lesson and benefit from it years later. Thank you for sharing your journey.

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