Someone once told me: The two most important words in the English language are “after you.”
Can we reconcile this lovely thought with our rigid notion of “the leader,” a word and concept, which quite literally describes the one in front?
Yes! Because in great leadership we follow others, as is appropriate to the situation.
Last night my wife and I followed the lead of our oldest daughter Kate, as the three of us and our other two children met rather formally to discuss how we should consciously build a community, now that we are all under the same roof for the foreseeable future. Kate realized that it had been seven years since we had lived together, and now, unlike then, we are all adults (Jack at 17 is our “baby”). She framed the question. She guided the conversation. And she deftly led us to a new level of respect and shared purpose.
Jennifer and I said “after you” to her — the central figure in our system,* and she worked better than Jennifer or I possibly could have. I am more convinced than ever that “the” leader who goes first generates antiquated, misleading and sub-optimal results for groups. Under so many circumstances, the nominal leader should say not “follow me,” but “after you,” and learn to follow that person who may well be better positioned to lead the group.
After you to…
Lead with your best self.
* Kate’s position, as oldest of the children is akin to many roles in business and organizations. She acted in our meeting like a captain would vis-a-vis a coach and players; or a union rep, interceding between workers and management; or a sergeant who is closer to the troops than a typical lieutenant. Great leaders often cede their power to those who are closer to the problem and instrumental in leading “the troops.”