Choosing to Be a Leader, Without Forgetting How to Follow

A true leader isn’t someone who operates in a single mode all the time. Our Western culture has a lot of myths about leadership. One is that to be a leader; you have to be “On” all the time. We have phrases like Alpha and Type A, which, though they do tend to describe some people within our society, aren’t descriptors that often accompany healthy lives.

Individuals who lead and never follow tend to become arrogant or unstable, often pushing themselves beyond their natural limits without taking care to rest and recover properly. Leading from a place of exhaustion is a good way to make sure your efforts will be undermined, sometimes by yourself! Here are a three vital tips to ensure that your leadership is balanced and able to follow.

  1. Put Yourself in Situations Where You Don’t Take Charge. It’s important for strong leaders to have people in their lives who take the reins. In your case, this might be your doctor or therapist. Choose someone who is obligated to hear your secrets and keep them; someone who shows you ways to improve your life and keep yourself together. It can be difficult for talented leaders to trust others to do the same to them. One valuable resource, the Leadership Challenge Overview, can help clue you into some of these challenges, even as it reveals some of your own hidden strengths.
  1. Invite Criticism. It’s common for leaders to build walls between themselves and honest feedback. We do this for many reasons. Maybe we feel that if others were to be able to express themselves honestly regarding our leadership styles, we’d lose our position and move backward in our careers. While that may be slightly true, the alternative is often much worse. Leaders who don’t listen often work themselves into a corner. Their followers notice the things that are wrong, which are going unaddressed. Sometimes a mutiny is scaled behind closed doors, or the board decides it’s time to replace you. The only way to prevent this is to invite honest criticism in the first place, and humbly adapt yourself to the people you are meant to lead and serve.
  1. Find Time to Reflect. There are a lot of leaders who run into problems when they don’t have time for rest and reflection. Many leaders aren’t true extroverts. Introverts (And really, people of any personality type at all) need time away from people. These times are very helpful at keeping you between the lines, so to speak. It allows you to reflect on recent things that have worked, and things that haven’t. It lets you adjust your own attitude and make plans for better days. It lets you recharge, so you aren’t leading out of exhaustion.

There are many ways to be a better leader. Most of them involve being less demonstrative, not more. That may seem counterintuitive. Lots of leaders seem to advocate endless pushing. But this is only a recipe for exhaustion, mistakes, and excess. Keep yourself in the right spot and you’ll do better in the long run.

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