Alessandra Patti

FindYourWay Coaching - Zurich

info@findyourway.company  +41(0) 76 407 44 64

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Leading and following. The dancing of the companies

March 19, 2018

Today I was thinking about leaders and followers in a company. I was giving some thought about the meaning of the word leadership, and thinking about how much of a convention it is to call the leaders "leaders",  and the rest of the people "followers". A leader would be the one that takes the initiative, that initiates something and guides the others through. This was my definition before looking into Merriam Webster, where, surprisingly, the second definition was this one: "The person (as an employer or supervisor) who tells people and especially workers what to do", followed by a much nicer third definition, such as "one that takes the lead or sets an example".

 

I like the example setting definition, it makes me think of Martin Luther King or Mandela, people like this. People who will be remembered for ever, who set an example that should never ever vanish. Then there are the followers, whose definition is even worse in the English language, since some of the synonyms gathered are "dependent, inferior, junior, secondary, subject, subordinate, underling".  This would mean that the rest of people who are contributing to something but are not in the lead are just secondary. I refuse such a simplistic definition of the word follower. And I tell you why. As a keen dancer, the only way to properly explain it for me is the dance itself. In couple dancing like salsa, there is a leader and there is a follower. The leader decides which moves to initiate and the ones that follow. The leader makes the partner spin if he/she wants, and will lead  the dance to an end. The follower follows the moves, but without the follower there could not be any dance. The dance itself would lose its meaning and its passion. Just as a mission in a company would lose its value without the people that make this very mission possible.

 

So, if we follow this last principle, Merriam Webster's definition sounds about right. Except for one thing. In Salsa dancing, some leaders can switch to followers and viceversa, experiencing the thrill and the passion of deciding what comes next. And the leader can relax and experience what it means to be led. It is true, not everyone wants to necessarily lead or necessarily follow, but in the dance, they do have a chance. What I want to say is, have you ever thought that the leaders and followers definition are extremely confined to culture, gender-related in many cases, seniority related and simply force of habit? A follower who has been in a "following" position can still be the head of an idea. But because there is no leader title, he/she is just a follower, an "executor".

 

The word executor itself is defined as "someone who is named in a will as the person who will make sure that the instructions in the will are properly followed". Once someone told me I was an executor. I did not take it that well, as per the definition, which is quite positive actually.  Again, we should redefine this science of leader and follower, and make a special "company dance", in which everyone is allowed to bring something forward, to lead a special dance and a mission, and never discouraged for wanting to progress. As well as the leaders might relax sometimes, thinking the dance is not always only about them.

 

 

 

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