Throughout your life, there will be times where you’ll need to follow someone else’s lead. Maybe it’s an elected official or a supervisor or some other leader who is responsible for providing direction. Simultaneously, in different spheres or different ways, you also may be doing the same for others you’re responsible for leading.
Personally, I’ve found that if those I’m looking to for leadership have some semblance of a plan, it can go a long way to keeping me engaged. Or to put it negatively, as soon as I realize there’s no plan in place, it’s that much more difficult for me to keep following.
For me, having some kind of plan is important. At the same time, I’m also aware of how fragile plans can be. None of us know what the future holds. Some unforeseen event could waylay even the best of plans. There’s a Yiddish proverb, “We plan, God laughs.” Or, in the Woody Allen version, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” And while I agree that our plans guarantee nothing, and could be unraveled at any moment, I still think there’s something valuable about having an idea of where you’re heading, and what your next steps are in that direction.
A leader, by definition, is leading others somewhere. And if you’re anything like me, it’s reassuring to have at least an idea of where you’re headed. I don’t care nearly as much about whether we’re there yet—wherever there may be—as I do about whether we’re moving forward. Have we picked a direction? Have we chosen a path? Even if the destination is still a long way off, is there a sense that we’re heading toward it?
When someone responsible for leading others takes the time to clarify where they’re going, and then to put some thought into how to get from here to there—also known as a plan—it says something about their commitment to leading the way. It also gives those following an opportunity to assess whether they want to commit to the journey. The plan won’t be perfect, and will probably need to be adjusted along the way. But I’d rather have that than find out that we’re simply drifting along aimlessly.
Now, that’s what I appreciate from those I’m following. But I also have to ask myself, Am I doing the same for those following me? Am I providing them with an idea of where we’re heading? Do I have a plan, no matter how rough, for moving in that direction? Ultimately, am I giving them a reason to continue to follow me when I’m the one leading?