“Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way”
“Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” We have all heard this famous quote by Thomas Paine, the author of both Common Sense and Crisis that were so influential during the American Revolution. A similar quote has been attributed to General George Patton, “We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”
In the last few weeks I have heard this phrase used several times on national news broadcasts. I’ve heard it used in reference to BP and the oil crisis. I’ve heard it used in reference to our President.
Richard Smith, CEO of Cisco Systems, recently said in a Newsweek article, “It’s important to know what you don’t know.” That’s a pretty profound revelation! And it takes a very confident and competent leader to admit that they don’t know everything. Kudos to you, Mr. Smith! Let’s hope other leaders take direction from your words of wisdom.
Everyone has expertise in certain areas. And each one of us has areas where we are not as strong. The key to effective leadership is to know your strengths as well as your weaknesses and then to concentrate your efforts in your strength areas. The next step is important: Have people around you who have strengths in your areas of weakness! A good leader is not intimidated by smart people. Even better… a great leader is energized by smart people! A strong leader also knows that it is ok to share leadership roles. Collaboration and teamwork are desperately needed in today’s ever-changing business environment. There are times to lead and times to follow.
My mother once told me a story about my father’s leadership role as a high school principal. She said his recognized success in the local school system was attributed to his innate ability to assemble a strong team of educators. Mother said, “Your father doesn’t speak Latin but he knows how to hire and retain the best Latin teacher in the district.”
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