This is my favorite passage from one of my favorite books, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon MacKenzie. We talk and write and speak so much about powerful leading that we fail to talk enough about powerful following. Here’s the best description of that I have yet to come across:
If we were to think of waterskiing as a metaphor for leading and following, the person at the wheel, in the boat, dry, would represent the leader. And the skier in the water, wet, would be the follower.
Wherever the leader goes, the follower goes. If, for reasons unknown to the follower, the leader decides to steer the boat through an area where clusters of reeds are growing up out of the water, about three feet tall, the reaction of the follower might be:
“Why are we goin’ over there?”
“This is gonna hurt.
“And it’s gonna hurt me, not you!”
If you are a skier in this situation, you have at least a couple of options other than being whipped painfully through the reeds.
You can let go of the towline. Become an entrepreneur – on your own, in the middle of the lake.
You can become a better waterskier. Learn to ski out beyond the confines of the boat’s wake, way ’round to the right, thus dodging some of the threatening reeds. Then, describing a great, broad arc, ski back over the wake, over the wake again and way ’round to the left, avoiding more reeds.
Every point on the arc is a point of legitimate following.
My last boss at Hallmark, a fellow by the name of Bob Kipp, sat at the wheels of one of the corporate speedboats. I was at the end of a towline on waterskis. We spent our time together skimming across great Lake Hallmark. Kipp was so sure of who he was and why he was where he was and where the power was that he was not threatened at all when I would ski around in a wide arc until I was up even with the boat and sometimes even past it. He knew I was not going to start pulling the boat with him in it. It just doesn’t work that way. The power remains in the boat. But, in allowing me to ski past him – in a sense, allowing me to lead – he would unleash in me an excitement about our enterprise that served our shared goals well.
If you are in a position of power and want to lead well, remember:
Allow those you lead…
To lead…when they feel the need.
All will benefit.
– from Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon MacKenzie.
DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.