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The Missing Half of Leadership

We were at the beach and my 5-year-old son was directing operations.

The goal was to dig a hole so big that he and his younger brother could both sit in it and be covered up to their necks in sand.

He took the lead and began directing operations.

“Mama,” he pointed, “please dig a big hole right here.”

I moved to the designated area and dug a hole that I thought would accommodate two boys.

“No, Mama,” he persisted. “It needs to be bigger.”

So, I dug deeper.

“Mama,” he chided, “that’s not big enough.”

I dropped the tiny shovel I had been using and got both hands working to deepen the hole.

It was getting quite deep.

“Mama! I said the hole needs to be bigger!” He punctuated his statement with emphatic arm movements.

I realized we had a different idea of what bigger meant.

“By bigger, do you mean wider?” I clarified.

“Yes, bigger.”

To his 5-year-old mind, it was obvious what bigger meant. Yet he wasn’t the one doing the work.

There was more involved.

We were physically present in the situation, but we weren’t WITH each other.

It was interesting that the leader was consistently communicating and reviewing the work in true leader fashion, and still things were not going according to plan.

As important as communication is, it requires the full cycle of information —>  processing —> output.

It requires at least two people.

I’m convinced we do the same in leadership.

We look so hard at the leader and neglect the other equally important half of the leadership equation: the follower.

The thing is, we intrinsically know leadership involves more than the leader. A small survey asked if leadership was only about the leader, and 89% responded it isn’t.

The fact that leadership is more than the leader is not foreign to us.

Yet, there are billions (yes, billions) of links and resources available to leaders, and only a fraction (less than 15%) for followers.

To take it a step further, I am hard pressed to find any resource that (1) recognizes the value of both leader and follower as equal partners in the relationship and (2) sets up a system of shared accountability.

If a majority believe leadership isn’t only about the leader, then why do we only cater to the leader?

Why do we ignore half of the leadership equation?

I submit to you we ignore the weight of followers in leadership for two main reasons:

     (1) It’s nebulous: As soon as more than one person is involved, dynamics change. Things get squishy and harder to define. It becomes a relationship, which is one of the hardest and most complicated things we do as humans. So, we focus on the more visible part of the relationship - the leader - because it’s easier. This leads to point #2.

     (2) It’s hard: There are so many moving targets when bringing followers into the equation (do we keep them in one large group, or separate them out by engagement levels, etc.) that it immediately becomes overwhelming.

Taking it piece meal and focusing on one half of leadership solves the question of where to exert energy, but it negates the entire purpose of leadership - to work together, to be WITH.

Authentic leaders know leadership is not solely about the leader; they intentionally undergird and create accountability in the leader-follower relationship.

This means:

  • They intentionally make time to get to know their people during work hours.

  • They consider it part of their responsibility to learn what makes each person on their team tick.

  • They work on understanding and shaping themselves so they can be a positive half in the leadership relationship.

They do their part to be WITH and call others to do the same.

How are you WITH?


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