Learning To Lead Begins With Learning To Follow – 5042

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My generation was raised by the World War II or Korean War generation (I only use that to give context to our parents’ generation). Old school. 

Just the other morning Twitter was somewhat buzzing about a little video clip of Alabama’s football coach, Nick Saban, ripping into a defensive back. We often associate “old school” training with ripping and snorting. We think of Red Foreman, the dad on That 70’s Show. Or maybe we think of Frank Barrone, the dad on Everybody Loves Raymond. Gruff, blunt characters who didn’t tolerate any nonsense, unless it was their own. 

Some years ago during a conversation with a young person seeking some counsel, I found myself saying (for the first time) a truth that I’ve long believed…

I am who I am because of the old men in my life.

Yes, I am who I am because of the old women in my life, too. But in that moment I reflected on the quick moment of accountability provided by old men in my life. The times old men shot me a look, or made some moaning sound, or even hollered at me. Moments of correction that seemed part of my male mainstream consciousness even though I had yet to hear John Lee Hooker’s line from Boom Boom – “a-how-how-how-how.” I remember hearing such guttural utterances like that all my life as a little boy. By 1973 when ZZ Top released the song – La Grange – with similar sounds, it was nothing extraordinary to me. I’d heard the old men in my life use similar sounds to get our attention and make us behave all my life.

Learning to accept instruction and correction has been crucial for me. And thankfully, I’ve not had to learn everything the hard way. 

Fact: We lead people. We manage the work. 

Leadership is about getting things accomplished by serving the people who do the work. It’s about helping them achieve more (faster and better) than they could without your help. No business can scale without solid leadership. Learning to lead is foundational for any business owner intent on growing their business. You’ve got to learn to listen and follow before you can learn to lead.

Every leader was influenced by people who helped them develop their leadership. People taught them things. Showed them things. They observed, watched, paid attention and began to try things. Sometimes they got it right quickly. Other times they didn’t and they had to change and improve. They’ll all tell you they learned by following the counsel, advise and patterns set by people who were leading them. 

Leaders pass it on by helping developing leadership in others. It starts with first being open and available to learn…and follow.

Grow Great is going to be bringing you some brief 20-minute or so conversations with CEO’s, founders and owners. They’ll share how people influenced their leadership and share with us some of the most important leadership lessons they learned. I plan to bring you as many of these conversations as I can, from as many different types of leaders as possible.

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