Lead, Follow, Or Get Out of the Way

The late great Peter Drucker once observed that "Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done."

How can we put Drucker's wisdom into practice in today's organizations? Let's start with another piece of wisdom, this time from Thomas Paine who wrote, in a publication called The American Crisis in 1776:

~ Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Whoa! Talk about plain speaking. Imagine the intellectual lightning that would spark from Drucker and Paine together on a TV talk show about management and leadership? (Now there's an idea for you cable TV programmers!)

So let's apply Paine's options to Drucker's call for improvement in management:

You can lead: Do managers need to be leaders? In my opinion, yes they do. Anyone on the management team, whatever their level in an organization, is responsible for "turning vision into reality" (as Warren Bennis once put it so well when he defined leadership). And how do they do that? They make the choice to lead. They step up to leadership. And that means summoning up the moxie to take risks and do whatever it takes to support your people so they can deliver results.

You can follow: Do managers need to be followers? Yes they do because they are part of a team in an organization. Each one is a member of the corporate body. And every member needs to pull in a common direction. Everyone has to play their part, do their share, and get with the program. And most importantly, "each one help one:" each member must look out for the others around them. Texan Sam Rayburn once said: "You cannot be a leader, and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too."

You can get out of the way: Do managers need to get out of the way at times? Consider this. The goal of every manager should be "to work himself out of a job," so to speak. The concept dates back to the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who once said "A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves." In a nutshell, it's not about You. It's about your People and the Results you desire.

In Paine's time, the leadership quality in most demand was courage, that deep inner strength that comes from the heart. Along with courage, Paine and the other American revolutionary patriots had "the courage of conviction" about their cause, and with that confidence came the strength they needed to push ahead despite the odds against them.

What leadership quality is most in demand in today's world? In my opinion, we also need courage. In our modern situation, we need the courage to change. Additionally, we need humility.

CEO and philosopher Dee Hock once said: "If you don't understand that you work for your mislabeled 'subordinates,' then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny."

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Wednesday May 4, 2011. For more ideas on leadership, managing, and courage, invite Terry to speak to your teams.


Doug Shaw said…
Hi Terry - just wanted to say this is a spot on post. And timely to as I'm engaging with a group of leaders and on the look out for cool stuff like this. Love it - keep up the good work.
Terrence Seamon said…
Thanks Doug. I hope it is helpful to you and the group.
Danilo Vargas said…
Terrence, you've hit on the essence of leadership. Great leaders know how to follow at times. And they know it's ALL about their people. Really enjoyed the post and the quotes you selected.

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