Lead, follow, or get out of the way

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H ave you used the phrase, , “lead, follow, or get out of the way”? I know that I have and I hear it said in meetings, read it in business books, and see it on social media posts. It’s a phrase that stuck with me long ago and something that still resonates with me today.

I first heard the phrase when I was in Army ROTC at North Georgia College (now University of North Georgia) back in the 80’s. Indeed, I had always assumed it was a phrase that originated in the military – but it’s not. Some have suggested that Thomas Paine first said it back in the 1770’s as our country geared up for Revolution, but there’s actually not much evidence to support that. General George Patton did say something similar many years later, “We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.” Regardless of its origin, the phrase has been one of my favorites and I find myself coming back to it time and time again. Let’s examine it in detail and how it applies to small business leadership.

Lead – I make no secret of the fact that I like forward momentum. Don’t most people? Those that know me personally, know that I have a hard time sitting still – just ask my wife Mary Catherine. Are you familiar with the venerable Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® personality test? Yes, I’m an ENTJ – you can look that up later. In some situations, I have found myself being the leader because of my formal position, title, rank, or just because I’m the middled-aged white guy. More than once I’ve ended up being the leader because no one else was willing to lead. Being a leader doesn’t mean you’re the smartest, fastest, or strongest person in the room. Quite the contrary, the best leaders surround themselves with people who are better than them. They serve as inspiration and rallying point to bring out the best in others, while also being willing to pick up a shovel and help do the dirty work. In order to move forward and get things done, someone has to be in charge – whether you’re just leading yourself, a small team, or a Battalion. Leaders cause things to happen.

Follow – It may surprise some to know that I also don’t mind being a follower. In fact, I rather enjoy not being the leader all of the time – it’s exhausting. If someone has a vision, knows what they’re doing, and is trustworthy I’d rather they be the Captain and I’ll gladly follow. The best leaders groom others for leadership roles and give them a chance to develop. I am at that stage of my life and career where it’s important that I not be the leader all of the time. It’s my time to let others shine and blossom as leaders. It’s not easy to let go. Yes, mistakes will be made, but that’s part of the journey. Middle-aged folks and older, the future is our young people and we need to help them become leaders. I’ve made plenty of blunders in my career and I’m willing to bet most of you have as well. In order to get things done, a team has to have followers – people who are committed to the goal, able to do the job, and believe in each other and the leader. Followers make things happen.

Get out of the way – One of my biggest weaknesses is a general lack of patience. I don’t suffer foolishness very well, especially from people who block progress. No one is perfect and we’ve all probably been guilty of complaining about things without offering to help find solutions. What really frustrates me are people and groups that make that a regular spectacle with constant complaining and criticism without being willing to help. I could never be a politician. It’s important to recognize when we can neither lead or follow. So what then? Get out of the way. Better yet, become a supporter or advocate! As I write this article, it’s football season – we all know how to support our teams. We do it every weekend because most of us are not coaches or players. We cheer on our teams. If we aren’t following or leading, let’s support those that are – others at your place of employment, first responders, teachers, healthcare professionals, servers, military, non-profits, faith-based organizations, and anyone trying to make forward progress for the betterment of all. Supporters encourage leaders and followers that are making things happen.

I often wonder how different this world would be if we all were a little more deliberate about leading, following, or getting out of the way (supporting).

[Joe Domaleski, a Fayette County resident for 25 years, is the owner of Country Fried Creative – an award-winning digital marketing agency located in Peachtree City. His company was the Fayette Chamber’s 2021 Small Business of the Year.  Joe is a husband, father of three grown children, and proud Army veteran.  He has an MBA from Georgia State University and enjoys sharing his perspectives drawing from thirty years of business leadership experience. ]