Let’s face it, when you live, work, write and dream leadership it can be very difficult to be a great follower. But even those of us who have a passion for leadership (I believe that includes all of you, my dear readers!) know there are times when we are simply meant to follow.
Enter the Tango. And the Rumba, Salsa, Hustle, Waltz and Fox Trot. Up until a few weeks ago my only exposure to them had been the Mario Lopez season of Dancing With the Stars. But, having spent the better part of my childhood and High School years dancing and performing on football fields and basketball courts, I decided it was time to bring dance back into my life.
I feel like my soul has begun to fly. Truly.
But you want to know the first thing I told my amazing instructor, Joel (who is half Puerto Rican and looks a bit like Mario Lopez)? “You have to teach me to be a great follower, because my inner self always wants to lead.” His response? “You asked for it.”
Hence, the 7 things the Tango, and Joel, have taught me about being a great follower:
1. You have to trust
Sometimes as leaders we take this for granted. We assume because of our titles or our experience or even our vision people will naturally follow us. But that’s not the case. They have to trust that we have their best interest at heart as we lead them down the path we’ve laid out. Just as I have to completely trust Joel not to dance me into a pole, a wall, or another dancer, our followers need to trust that we genuinely want them to be successful.
This goes back to my message on the power of authenticity. Trust comes when we honor who we are in every moment and allow our followers to see this.
2. You have to keep the leader in front of you at all times
This might seem obvious, but how often do we get so engrossed in what we’re doing and our own personal goals that we completely lose sight of the leader and where they’re headed? This is dangerous for followers and I guarantee you it happens relentlessly in corporate America.
The more I keep Joel squarely in front of me and look directly at him instead of at my feet, his feet, or in the mirror, the better I dance.
3. You need the right distance between you and the leader
This has probably been the most important lesson for me so far: the more I push away from Joel and keep the right distance, the easier it is for me to move and to follow him. Yes, ladies, it’s a bit counter-intuitive to push the man away from us, but as followers it speaks to our desire to have the space we need to do our jobs. Most successful executives I work with appreciate direction, but they want room to move in their own way. The right amount of distance ensures more empowerment by the leader to the follower, and a more successful outcome as a team.
4. Energy is everything
If you want to be a great follower you have to have to match the energy and passion exuded by the leader in your own role. Have you ever tried to Salsa with someone who is half Puerto Rican? Enough said.
5. Listening is critical
Some leaders are great at telling you exactly what they need from you. Some are a bit more subtle. Sometimes that’s because they want to give you space and sometimes it’s simply because they don’t realize you need more direction. As the follower it’s your responsibility to make sure the leader understands when you need more direction and to listen closely to every cue they give.
Of course, I have the luxury of asking Joel to show me a dance step ten times if need be. But once the music starts I’m learning to pay close attention, and I’m starting to understand how – and when - he is giving me cues as to where he is headed so I can follow.
6. Attitude sets you apart
Look at every successful leader in your organization and I can almost guarantee it is their attitude that sets them apart from their peers. The right attitude is the icing on the cake that entices the leader to want to work with you. When you “bring it” you set yourself up for success, even when you make missteps along the way.
In the Tango that attitude is, “I love to hate you!” with an air of disdain. I haven’t quite mastered this yet because I’m suppressing perpetual inner giggling.
7. Be open to the adventure
To be a brilliant follower you have to be open to the adventure upon which the leader is taking you, and you sometimes need to be willing to try new things. You may even need to get out of your comfort zone (yes, I’m talking to you, fellow introverts!). But if you’re not fully open, you won’t experience all the joys of the journey.
So, after just two lessons I’m hooked on following and exuberant about having dance back in my life. You won’t find me on Dancing With the Stars anytime soon, but if you’re watching any of my lessons you’ll find me smiling like crazy and as happy as can be about this exciting new adventure.
What do you think makes a great follower?
Are you an introvert looking to use your introversion to your advantage in business & leadership or an extrovert interested in leading introverts more effectively? I wrote this eBook for you…
“The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership” eBook is NOW Available! Now an Amazon Best Seller & Hot New Release, Featured on Huffington Post, and the inspiration behind my Harvard Business Review article!
Click here to DOWNLOAD in PDF format. Thank you!
Being an introvert is truly an advantage in business and leadership if you know how to leverage it, and if you remain true to yourself.
Photo of Tango! at Cafe Tortoni in Argentina by Armando Maynez.