Are you a leader or a follower?
I hate that question for a number of reasons. I hate it because it is an either/or question: You either lead, or you follow. Every leader is also a follower and every follower is often also a leader. Second, I dislike the question because it assumes that leading and following are as simple as a question. Lead or follow, what is important is whether you invest yourself. Not simple, but very basic. Third, I dislike the question because it brings up shame. The leader is presented the one making the important decisions and the one who is actively determining his or her direction. The followers are the mindless sheep who at best follow along or who are passively avoiding doing any type of initiating. Are you a leader or are you a follower? Ask a simple question, get a stupid answer.
Most people have a variety of relationships and roles where there is some following, some leading and sometimes both. I think the key is to know yourself and where you are at right now.
I grew up in Alberta where we have a lot of winter. Because we have such long winters, my family made my brother and I try downhill skiing. At first, I just could not get it. Intentionally staying outside when it is -20 Celsius, fighting ice and snow, wearing ski boots that made me walk like Frankenstein, strapping on to two long slippery boards, holding two spears (just in case I need to fight off a polar bear), T-Bar lifts that could take your head off, and chair lifts that seemed to be 1200 feet in the air. What part of this was fun? And then there were the lessons. All I remember is falling. A lot. And I felt afraid. A lot. And embarrassed. A lot. I took lesson after lesson and I could not seem to understand how to make carving turns, so I snow plowed. Everywhere. People would snicker from the chair lifts when I would crash like a Lego car, pieces flying everywhere on the mountain. But somehow, I did not give up. I envied the really good skiers who could speed down the hills, making slicing turns. I could not do that, so I did missed all of the little improvements I was making, how I struggled less and where my confidence was improving. Years into my skiing experience, it finally “happened.” I finally mastered the technique so that I could turn without snowplowing! The universe came together that day and I somehow became coordinated. Too bad that does not apply to my dancing ability!
To me, life is not about whether or not you lead, or whether you follow… whether you ski, or whether you slide. Who cares? Scrap the linear, simple minded Leader-Follower question and instead consider this brilliant gem, What kind of cookie are you: Chocolate Chip or Oreo? The chocolate chip cookie loves the popularity and identity that it gets from being simple and adored. It is delicious and comes in so many varieties. When you go into a store, you know what you are getting with the chocolate chip cookie. No guessing, no personality. Then consider the Oreo. Less popular and willing to be different. Deep, dark and multi-layered… complicated and complex. Can be bitten or separated for a more individual, personalized experience. I like this question, because it is more fun than the Leader-Follower one, and it also reminds me than I need a coffee… and a cookie.
Instead of the Leader-Follower question I recommend asking yourself, “Are you an owner or are you a renter?” This question gets to the idea of whether you are taking ownership for decisions within your relationships, your workplace, your health and fitness. Owning your life sounds Oprah-ish, but it is true. Taking ownership is about knowing yourself, understanding how your skills can contribute, knowing how you learn and where you can add value to others. Owning your life is about finding ways to be more present, more in the moment, more accepting and yet also more willing to take risks. Owning your life is about trying and making mistakes, and getting up again and again. Owning your life is about laughing, a lot, and not being afraid of making Lego-crashes… because we can learn from it all. Owning your life is about getting into the game, onto the hill, into the conversation. Owning your life is about investing instead of insulating.
I hope that I have added something to your day that makes you think differently about leading and following. We discussed important questions, Are you Chocolate Chip or Oreo? Are you an owner or renter?
Be an Oreo and join the conversation. What have you learned about owning your life?
Keep it real