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  • The Best Way to Lead is to Follow

    Many people have this misconception about leadership.

    They think leading others is directing the troops. Setting a vision, telling people what to do, and keeping everyone on track .While leadership is all of these, the real difference between good and great leadership is empowerment.

    If the CEO of a company maintains complete control on all aspects of the business, he creates a legion of followers. People who will listen to direction but often do not leverage (or even exercise) their creativity and ambition. Then your people will have less confidence in their decisions and are less likely to take healthy risks that would help the overall organization. While there are a few examples of this working effectively (think Steve Jobs at Apple, or Larry Ellison at Oracle), many times the organization takes a turn for the worse when that leader is no longer in the picture (the verdict on Apple is still out).

    Truly great leaders leverage the skills and talents of the group of smart people they build around them, but do so without needing to keep a tight grip on how goals are pursued and ultimately reached.

    As a manager, empowering your people helps them grow (even when making mistakes, they ultimately will learn valuable lessons in the process).

    The most effective way to empower your people is to follow their lead. As a leader, when someone is passionate about an idea of initiative, give them the opportunity to pursue it.

    Doing this builds trust and loyalty. As a leader, if you are constantly saying “it’s my way or the highway,” you will eventually surround yourself with mindless drones, as top talent will feel restricted and frustrated, eventually finding a place that offers them freedom. Yet when you empower your people and give them the chance to shine, they will work harder for you. That, mixed with the passion they have will create outstanding results.

    When you consistently do this, your employees will become loyal to you and when the time comes when you need something to be accomplished they will come through in the clutch, even when the task seems impossible.

    There is an “old school” mentality that fear and respect is what leads to results, but this is simply no longer true (if it ever was). Case and point, when building a team vision and goals, do you think that your employees will be more likely to strive for a vision they create, or one that you push down upon them?

    Clearly you would be more motivated and invested if you had a say. A great leader facilitates and directs the creation of goals and vision, she doesn’t just demand adoption of it. She knows when to let her people take the lead and supports them when they do.

    She backs them up, even when they fail; and builds them back up if they do. She knows when to push forward at the front of the pack, and when to push from behind.

    Ultimately, the ability to empower those you lead, through following their lead will lead to ideas you never could have thought of on your own and results that you never could have accomplished on your own.

    The true difference between a good leader and a great leader is not the results when she is leading the top, but the results that they continue to achieve long after she has gone. The main ingredient to fostering this greatness is empowerment, and the best way to empower is to know when to follow.

    Remember: the greatest leaders don’t just lead, they follow.

    Aaron McDaniel is a corporate manager, entrepreneur, author, public speaker and community leader. Aaron has held numerous management roles at a Fortune 500 company, being one of the youngest ever appointed appointed Regional Vice President at the age of 27, and is the founder of multiple entrepreneurial ventures. Aaron instructed a highly rated student-led course on leadership at UC Berkeley’s Haas Undergraduate School of Business and has a book, The Young Professional’s Guide to the Working World: Savvy Strategies to Get In, Get Ahead, and Rise to the Top, due to be out later this year. Aaron offers advice that helps young professionals build the foundation for a successful career. 

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