Today there is more leadership training available than at any other time in history. People can learn to lead based on family situation, gender, race and creed. They can learn to lead like Attila the Hun, Jesus, Buddha, Genghis Khan, George Patton and numerous others. We can learn to lead by reading books, magazines and blogs or learn to lead by watching videos and listening to podcasts. Even with all of that training few are chosen to actually lead, the others are to be followers.
They both have important roles to play and everyone must play their part appropriately or the whole system collapses. George Patton pointed out that the guy boiling water in the mess hall keeps the troops from getting diarrhea. Find your role and live up to it and do your part to the best of your ability. While both are vital here are some key differences between leaders and followers.
Key differences between leaders and followers
Big picture/small picture
The training schedule said the soldiers could go home and they did. Several hours before there had been a formation and they were dismissed for the day. Some were enjoying time with families and others were likely getting into trouble that I honestly didn’t want to know about since it would create more work. Their day had a solid end. Me, I had to plan training for the battalion. The soldiers (followers) only had to think of what they needed to get done each day. That might include maintenance on vehicles and equipment, specific specialty training or maybe some integrated training with other units. But the training was always a defined length of time.
Some training was scheduled for one day, two days or sometimes measured in weeks or months. It was always defined. As a leader though; I planned their training. I had to think about what they were lacking, what changes were coming in the next six months? Who was to be promoted and get a new job? What sorts of new equipment would we possibly see in the next year? I had to consider what resources we would need in three months and six months from now. If I waited too long it was likely that someone else would snag them before I could. I also had to consider safety issues. What could go wrong? How would I make the operation as safe as possible?
The decisions that I was making would impact their lives, the lives of their families and even the community around us. For the most part the soldiers were only responsible for themselves. The medics could focus on medical things, riflemen could focus on their specific skills, mechanics could work on their vehicles; but I had to know and understand it all and how each part impacted the others. That is what a leader does. So I sat in my office and analyzed what I saw of the training that day and created plans to fix problem areas and to reinforce those areas that we were strong in. I rubbed my eyes and realized that my big picture also included a family so I went home to them.
A wise book said, “Not many among you should seek to be teachers.” This could also be said of leaders. Many rise to the position of leaders but do not have the heart to lead. Leadership comes with expectations that are often hard to live up to if you are not prepared. You must dress the part of the leader.
Leaders set the standard.
Great leaders have always been out front to be seen by followers. General MacArthur was known to be in the midst of fighting as well as General Patton. They would get muddy and grubby with the best of them. When the fighting was done for the day they would spit and polish their uniforms and go the gala event and parade with the wealthy and the influential. That is what is expected of a leader. The follower can stay in one mode. There is no further expectation.
Long term/short term thinking
In battle the solider is given a task. He must work to accomplish that task within any constraints and limitations that have been given him. While he may know something of what others are doing, he typically won’t know the whole story. While a follower can focus on the task of the moment the leader must keep in mind that the current task has a purpose that is part of a larger objective. Even that objective is part of an even larger objective.
Again in battle the taking of this island or that hilltop is the small units objective but they are doing that so that the battle can be won. The hope is that winning the battle will lead to winning the war. A leader looks at the ultimate objective of creating peace and a resolution of hostilities. Often times they have to look not only at the military objectives but also the political and moral objectives of whatever situation they are in.
Leaders are also followers/ followers are necessarily not leaders
Regardless of whether you are leading in battle or in the boardroom you are following someone. That someone might be a board of directors or customers or a higher supervisor. All leaders answer to someone. They must know how to follow and be part of the bigger purpose and allow themselves to be led.
They then must turn to those that they are leading and actually lead them. A follower must only follow the directives of their supervisor. The responsibility of the leader is to listen carefully all around them and make their leader look good. All followers should do the same.
Impact of failure
If a follower is to make a mistake typically only the follower is impacted by the choice. However, when a leader makes a decision than its impact is felt by all of the followers. These choices can have ramifications for good or for bad for generations to come.
When leaders are aware of this they typically look at this fact somberly. In order to lead they must take risks. But those risks may cause someone to lose a job or worse their lives. They must live with this realization on a daily basis. They must weigh the potential impact of every choice. Most of the time they must do this quickly with limited information and then somehow live with the results. This is why the character of a leader is so critical.
A poor character as a leader has the potential to disrupt many lives.
Many are followers and the few lead them. Which will you be? While all of the training options are great in order to lead you must get out there and practice your craft. You can lead a small committee, a small company or a large nation.
Maybe you can lead a small project for a nonprofit just for the practice. The key is to go out and lead. When you do so, realize that life is different for the leader. Recognize these differences and you will succeed.