There are so many opportunities to lead. Just this morning I was heading to the office on a particular street that is designed as a four lane divided roadway. This four lane road merges into a two lane road with minimal places to pass for about 18 miles. As I pulled up to the last red light of the four lane section of this road another car pulled up to the light next to me. Since I drive this road 5 days a week I know it well; I know that if I am not leading coming off this light then I will be forced to follow the other driver for the next 18 miles. Sure, there might be opportunities to pass him at some point, but there is no guarantee with the way traffic fluctuates on this road (not to mention the police presence). I confess this morning was not much different from the rest, as the light turned green I hit the gas pedal with enough force to ensure that I was in the lead. As the road converged into two single lanes and I assumed the first position I looked into my review view mirror with an admitted sense of accomplishment knowing I would not be following, but leading. Being the lead car brings its own set of responsibilities; I was now responsible for setting the pace and foreseeing any hazards that might impede forward progress. Leading I could make the decision to follow the speed limit, drive 5 mph over (the quasi “safe zone”), or risk an accident or ticket and drive as fast as I think the speed limit should actually be on this road.
This is not a far stretch to how I experience leadership in the business world. Every day I am presented with the same scenario, do I lead this discussion, do I lead this effort, and do I lead the effort to assemble a team to get this work done before more problems arise? The one thing I have noticed is that in the business world, unlike my automobile analogy, is that once I decide to take lead the expectation is that I will stay in the lead until the effort is complete and the goal is realized. Since we all can relate to the driving scenario you know that there is no shame is leading down one stretch of the road and then following down another. Even in NASCAR racing the expectation is that leaders will shift back and forth, this strategy of drafting helps the final leader win the race, but in the business world if you are leader you are expected to lead. A leader does not get a hall pass to step out of their leadership role for a short amount of time and then step back in; a leader is either leading or following, no in between. That is not to say that a leader does not listen to others and follow their advice, if you are one of those leaders chances are you are missing out on some great ideas and innovations. A great leader surrounds themselves with good people, they invest in them both personally and professionally.
As I wrap this up, I have to ask myself what motivates me to lead? In the office, is it that I want to receive the recognition that I am the leader? No, that is not why I like to lead. I like to lead because I do not like to follow, simply put. That may sound arrogant or rebellious, but I see it more as an act of service. Leadership is, putting yourself out there so that others can prosper. If you have the ability to lead then do not waste it, lead. Get out front and take the risk.
Why do you lead?