Friday, August 16, 2013

The Act of Dynamic Following as Leadership

Image is CC licensed at Wikimedia Commons
“Dynamic following is where the real energy of an organization comes from” - Gordon MacKenzie, author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball

The concept of dynamic following is new to me, but it makes perfect sense.  There is so much leadership involved in the act of following.  So much in fact, that the way someone follows can positively or negatively impact an organization.  Unfortunately, I think the act of following is under-appreciated when it comes to leadership.

Gordon MacKenzie shares his idea of "dynamic following" in his book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball and sheds light into how it can benefit an organization:

“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 its 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.
Option #1:  You can let go of the towline.  Become an entrepreneur--on your own, in the middle of the lake. 
Option #2:  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 ... sat at the wheel of one of the corporate speedboats.  I was at the end of a towline on waterskis. We spend our time together skimming across great Lake Hallmark.  [My Boss] was so sure of who he was and why he was where he was and where the power was that he as 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 me an excitement about our enterprise that served our shared goals as 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."

For your consideration

1.  How does dynamic following promote leadership?
2.  As leaders, how might we become more dynamic followers of others?
3.  How might dynamic following improve a school, or organization?


Reference

MacKenzie, G. (1998). Orbiting the giant hairball: a corporate fool's guide to surviving with grace. New York: Viking.

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