I’m going to risk being rude in this Leading Thoughts. Forgive me and prepare yourself. Here it comes.
Years ago, I saw a bumper sticker. It read, “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.”
Now, I was young when I first saw this and it was probably the first time I had ever seen a cuss word printed for all the world to see. That was pretty much all the bumper sticker meant to me then. Years later—and having seen the words repeatedly and having led a lot of folks—I realized the help these words could be to a leader.
Now I assume you know what a leader is and I assume you can look around from your current position and see a number of leaders. They take responsibility. They chart a path. They inspire others to follow them on that path. They carry weight and get things done. They are leaders. You rely on them and they help you achieve the vision. In fact, some of them may carry the vision in their hearts more than you do. That’s okay. Just tend them well.
Then there are the followers. These are not weaklings or disoriented, dysfunctional folks. These are people who accomplish much but need someone else to set the direction first. Thank God for them. They can do astonishing things—far more than the leaders can—but they need a leader to set the vision, provide a plan, provide the tools, and reward well. Once they have these, they will build magnificently. They just need to be led first.
So, we have the first two people described in the bumper sticker. The leader. The follower.
What most leaders fail to identify, though, is the person who neither leads nor follows but is in the way. You’ve encountered this person, but you may not have realized the vision-killing effect they can have on those you lead. This person is the one who always raises objections and “concerns” in meetings but seldom walks out of those meetings with any responsibility for going forward. This person has questions but no answers, options but no decisions, fears but no courageous direction, alternatives but no focused action, “friendly advice” but no loyalty, the stench of opposition but no sweet smell of devotion, diligently protected boundaries but never any sacrifice. You know who I’m talking about.
Hear me. It is vitally important that kindly, calmly, reflectively you identify anyone who is not leading or following but is in the way. Look over my description of this type of person above. Is anyone in your world this person?
Now, you might think I’m going to say that you should fire them, divorce them, or send them off to military school. No. Coach them. Show them what they are doing. Help them to confront the fear or the insecurity that makes them obstacles. Work with them. If they don’t change, well, then you may have to fire them.
Here is the heart of the lesson. Some should lead. More than some should follow. No one should simply be in the way. You may not say these words to anyone, but use them as a tool of analysis: “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.”
Forgive my harshness, but if stats are true it is likely that half of you reading this are putting up with folks who are simply in the way. If so, you aren’t leading and you aren’t doing these “in-the-way folks” any favors by leaving them alone. Fix it.