Leaders and Followers


leaders versus followers

At my house, I am a leader. More accurately, I am one half of a leadership team. I have 3 children, and I like to think they need my advice, direction, and all of the other things that go along with being a parent.  As I wrote that last sentence though, I realized this is why it’s a good thing I’m only one member of the leadership team in my house. Absent from my stream of consciousness right then were terms like tenderness, cuddling, and kissing boo-boos to make them better. It’s not that I don’t do those things (or enjoy doing them); it’s just that those are not what initially come to my mind when I think of how I lead the kids at home. Conversely, I’d wager that those terms would be at the top of their mom’s list. 

It is interesting to think of how differently our followers act depending on who seems to be in charge at the moment. With me, things are more pragmatic; if we have a task to do (whether it is putting together a race car track, picking up toys, or finishing homework), we focus on the task. When things need to be done, I prefer to just get them done. No need to talk about how much you like the task, or if you feel it’s fair – the task needs to be done, so let’s just do it.     

Conversely, when mom is in charge I hear a lot more back-and-forth about the tasks – “well my teacher said you can only get the answer if you do it this way” (it’s math – 2+2 is always 4), “I don’t want to pick up my toys” (they’re your toys), “why?” “Why?” “Whaa?” But when I am in charge, those types of behaviors don’t often occur.

Whether my kids have a preference for either of our leadership styles, I’m not sure. One is 13 and doesn’t seem to look too favorably on anything her parents say. The second is 2 and half, so our communication is not particularly deep or feedback rich and is sometimes limited to talks about the merits of Hot Wheels vs Matchbox, whether we like brown or yellow dogs better, and Dora the Explorer.  And last is our 1 year old; he doesn’t really talk, so unfortunately he just has to deal with things. I help him put together Mega Blocks, mom soothes the devastation brought on by literally spilled milk.

The point being, when something just needs to get done, I’m the man they go to. But when feelings get hurt, knees get skinned, or emotions are running high, everyone seems to clamor for mom’s attention.   

I think this may be analogous to why finding good leaders can be difficult. I fulfill one part of our followers needs – mom fulfils another. But our followers need both. 

In a work setting, discovering an individual who excels in all areas is rare; that is why good leaders can be hard to come by. As Dr. Robert Hogan pointed out in his blog Leadership is a Hygiene Factor, although a good leader may not be the most important aspect of unit performance, a bad one can certainly ruin things. I suppose that is why things at my house have not imploded yet – we have the benefit of spreading the needs of our followers across two people. My advice? Try not to alienate the kids too much – unit performance will suffer.