The Importance of Knowing when to lead and when to follow

I live in Minnesota and have the luxury of experiencing four seasons of weather. While each of the seasons have pros and cons, Fall is by far my favorite. The crispness of the air, the brilliant colors of the trees, and the ability of the animals to prepare for impending winter and comforting.

On a recent walk, I stood for a long time and watched a flock of Canadian geese flying South. I believe they have figured out how to survive a Minnesota winter by leaving! When I got home, the curiosity of my Input strength forced me to dig into the ingenuity of the “V” pattern.

It is brilliant, and very applicable to where we are as a company, and where I am at personally.

The purpose of this pattern is to allow efficiency and range for the birds over a long flight. All of the birds, except for the first at the point of the V, fly in an “upwash” which supports the weight of each bird. The birds flying at the tips and at the front are rotated in a timely fashion to spread fatigue equally among flock members.

We recently added two team members, to boost our efficiency and range. Our “flock” has grown. This addition has allowed me the opportunity to see the leadership qualities in my own strengths in a new ways, while also reaping the benefits of the additional Strengths on our team.

Like these geese, I am both the person leading and following. I have unique strengths to influence where nobody else can, while at the same time am able to follow and support in ways that are unique to just me. It is this combination, and the image of the geese, that have shown me a new level of understanding around Strengths.

Here are the two ways I am wrestling with these lessons the geese have taught me about knowing when to lead and when to follow.

At ‘The Point of the V’ (leading)

As I have been leading one of our new team members, I find the magnifying glass on my own Strengths intensified. I ask myself many questions like;

  • “How do I lead with my Strengths?”
  • “Do I have an ‘others’ focus instead of a ‘self’ focus?
  • “Are my Strengths generative to those around me?”
  • “Am I creating a positive impact on the daily life of others?”

Leading others necessitates creating an environment with hope, compassion, stability and trust. My influence needs to meet these basic needs of those who follow.

During this time, I need to be the one at the front, creating a place for others behind me to glide to their highest heights by creating upwash. I face into that headwind ensuring my Strategic discusses options openly, my Communication does not manipulate, and my Arranger allows others the permission to be who they are. I put my Responsibility in the backseat so others can experience the challenges of ownership instead of me always guarding the path.

I want those I am leading to be ready to lead, through my example, when the time presents itself to them. Allowing someone the space to be their very best, shapes them positively so when they are at the point of the V, they will be prepared.

When you are Gliding (following)

I need to be willing to know when to rotate positions to avoid “flight fatigue.” We ALL do at times. For a long time, I have been “the one” to get [insert name of any task or project here] done. I would be someone who found it “just easier to do myself as I know it would get done the ‘right way.’”

But, I need to be willing to rely on the Strengths of my team to step into that place at the front and allow me to do what I do best in my Strength area.

For me, one of the most difficult parts about being in the “gliding” pattern, is allowing my Strengths to share control with others. I know I am surrounded by brilliant people, so it is an area of growth for me to allow other team members time at the front of the V, and allow me to fly in their upwash. When I do this, not only does the whole team have a greater sense of accomplishment, but I feel rejuvenated and together we fly further.

Inevitably, I will be back at the front of the V. If I want to be able to fly strong and lead in such a way, rotating through and allowing others to carry me in their upwash for a time, is a necessary part of doing this work long term.

Realizing the Difference

Knowing when to lead and when to follow is difficult. The opportunity to create space for others to feel fully empowered in their Strengths, while growing in my own, is extremely fulfilling. Knowing how and when to switch spots is critical.

As you reflect on where you are at in the “V” formation of your context, think about what you need to be the most generative version of yourself.