I was visiting with a well-respected and successful CEO recently, and I asked him how he came to be the leader of his organization. His reply caught me by surprise. He said, “Because I followed well.” He went on to explain:
Several years ago I was a mid-level leader, and I really had no agenda to become the CEO of the company. However, the CEO at that time found himself with a problem. He had a vision and plan that was not the same as the Board of Directors. This difference caused continued friction, and ultimately led to the resignation of the CEO.
I was asked to fill in until the Board could hire his replacement. At that point, I decided to commit to fulfilling the vision and values of the organization. I decided to align my goals and vision with those set by the Board. The results were that the organization grew, the Board asked me to serve as the CEO… and the rest is history.
I asked this senior executive if he had ever allowed his own personal agenda to supersede that of the organization. He replied, “Absolutely not. Doing so would not be fair to those within our organization or to our customers. To me, it is an integrity issue.”
I thought about our leadership culture today. With all the tools and tips on how to make our way to the top or lead at the next level, I wondered if at times we have it backwards.
Instead of trying to become more powerful or climb the ladder of success, what if we commit to follow? What if we, as leaders, took a long look in the mirror and asked a hard question: “Do my vision and values align with my company? Am I pursuing my personal agenda, or am I willing to follow the mission established by my organization?”
The truth is, if we cannot align with those things, we are working in the wrong organization.
When we lead from our personal aspirations, the result is selfish and misdirected leadership. Learning to follow may be the most important trait of strong and effective leadership. Choose to “follow well,” and you will make a difference.