The Value of Following

There is a plethora of resources, articles, videos, and books about learning how to be a leader. We spend a lot of time looking at how to lead, but what about following? It is something we all do in our daily lives, both at work and at home, so why don't we value the art of following more?

Yesterday I attempted mountain biking for the second time in my life, and I didn't completely freak out. I realized it was all because I followed someone.

When I tried it the first time 4 years ago, I did it alone, and I freaked out. I like trying new things alone, and I adore my 'me' time in nature. I thought the first attempt at mountain biking would be like hiking with a bit of a twist. Oh, how wrong I was. I had no idea what I was doing, and on the first slight downhill, I just about lost my marbles hyperventilating. As much as I loved biking on just about anything on two wheels, that single trip convinced me that mountain biking was NOT for me.

Fast forward to yesterday: A friend and I had found ourselves at a park and were biking on the road. There was a small trail beside the road that looked fun, and we thought we should give it a go. Before I know it, we were actually riding on a trail, away from the road - technically "mountain biking." (And please understand that I use the term "mountain" very loosely here. An experienced trail rider would have most likely called it "prairie" or "field" riding, but I swear there were some small hills in there, dammit.) I insisted that my friend stay in front, since I didn't know what I was doing. After 15 minutes, I was thoroughly enjoying myself, and considering trying it again later on. I am convinced it was all because she was leading me.

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I know we all talk about paving our own way and making each experience our own, but I do believe that can still happen when we follow a true leader. And not just a "leader" in the theoretical sense, but actually observing someone do something specific with the intention of developing something meaningful in yourself. Actually choosing who might lead you, and following them for select reasons. The times that following a leader have been valuable to me have included:

When I was scared out of my mind

I would have NEVER thought that mountain biking in any setting was a good idea, but someone I trusted was in front of me. I knew that person would not judge me nor would she think twice if I stopped after 35 seconds and said, " NOPE. Not doing this- Never mind." Following her also helped me keep my mind on something else when I started completely freaking out inside. I was literally saying things to myself like, "Just Breathe. Stop freaking out. Look at her. She's doing it. It's fine. See? You are doing it... you are really doing it!" Watching a leader helped me defy the internal fear that we all face when trying something intimating.

When I have no clue what I am doing

The first time I tried it, I didn't know what I was doing, and I had no one to ask. The first downhill that I came too, I completely psyched myself out. No one was there to guide me through the moment of scary hard unknown. This time, I could say, "Um... how should I be holding the bike when we go downhill?" She could let me know how to balance, and my confidence was boosted. I felt like a piece of knowledge had been gained that would help push me forward.

When I admire the way someone is doing something

This makes me think of work. I can think of numerous people I have worked with that have demonstrated characteristics that have inspired me and made me admire their talent. When I can see those characteristics shine through, I try to see those people as teachers... or leaders (whether they know it or not).

  • An old boss of mine could turn the angriest customer into his best friend in under 4 minutes. I watched and learned as much as I could, and started to view those crazy angry customers like fun challenges. How quickly could I get them to turn their anger around, and how could I convert them into allies?
  • Watching my hubby quickly influence his band with minimal words used to fascinate me and push me to speak more intentionally. I know try hard to only speak in group meetings when I feel that what I have to say is meaningful and useful.
  • A fellow colleague can ask the most perfect questions to guide the most difficult groups through discussions. I had previously only been a teacher and trainer, but was lucky to work beside her. By intently observing her and trying at times to practice what she does so naturally, I am striving to be a better group facilitator.

I believe that you can learn something from everyone you meet, even if it is something small. Who are some potential leaders in your life that you can follow to become better?