What an encounter with a rhinoceros taught me about followership
“Keep close, no, keep really close behind me – ok now climb up the rock and do it quickly!” shouted my South African safari guide in a low tone.
Finding myself lying half way up a large boulder, I finally dare to look up! With my heart beating out a veritable rhythm in my chest I eventually pluck up enough courage to look at the rhinoceros which is no more than 8 feet away! And slowly, as the pounding in my heart begins to subside, I start to marvel at the amazing experience I am having. What an awesome sight to behold – this enormous prehistoric looking animal is majestic. I just don’t get how people can kill them for their horn – but that is for a whole other blog.
It was only later that I reflected on what had happened for me – why was it that I didn’t feel comfortable following the instructions of our guide.
He was a personable sort of chap and was very experienced – having worked in the bush for 30 years or more. So why was I reluctant to follow him – what was it about his leadership or about me as a follower, that had me nearly put myself in real danger, ignore his instructions and head back to the safari vehicle?
Perhaps I am so used to being in the leadership position that I struggle to give up that role? Although I am not sure, I like to think I am a discerning follower – if the quality of the leadership is really good then I am a willing follower. I’m curious about what conditions need to be in place for me, and indeed you, to become a committed follower?
One of the keys, for me, is the credibility of the leader, and whether they inspire trust. Trust is built with consistency and transparency – it is the glue that holds a high performing team together.
Your credibility as a leader is derived from the quality of the decisions you make and the quality of the interactions you have with your people. Credibility creates a pool of goodwill that the leader can be trusted – which means that when the time comes and you are called upon to make a decision – you are granted permission to lead. Whilst your followers may not be openly judging you, they will in effect have opened a file in a filing cabinet or a computer directory on you, and will be stockpiling their experiences of you. When the time to follow comes, in a nanosecond they review the files and decide if you are trustworthy. Everything you do counts – the Americans call it the Law of Accumulation.
So, as I reflect on my rhino experience what I wanted was to be given more information – that would have made me a willing follower. I was craving some explanation of what we were doing and why we were doing it. Once I knew that the rhino couldn’t see very far, that we were up wind of it so he couldn’t smell us, and he couldn’t climb the large rock we were sitting on – I was free to relish in the experience of the encounter.
Aristotle said “He who cannot be a good follower, cannot be a good leader.”
What can you learn from followership situations that can inform your development as leader? Do let me know, I’m curious to hear your insights.
To find out more about my training, coaching, NLP or how horses can teach us valuable leadership lessons, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.