Happiness is Following
Recently, I started taking yoga classes with a friend of mine. We used to run together and since we’ve both sustained injuries and can no longer run we wanted to find something that we both enjoyed and that could possibly become another shared passion. While on a stroll in Central Park (at a slow, non-racing pace) my friend suggested we try yoga. I was game and he discovered that the NY Road Runners offers “Yoga for Runners” so we signed up and made a date for yoga.
In our first class we experienced all the fun and challenge of doing a new thing together. As we teetered in balancing poses, groaned into cobra and pressed up into downward dog we discovered a communal experience that was similar to the one we had enjoyed as running buddies. Doing it together was part of the fun. And commiserating about the challenge was part of the fun too; we were learning and stretching ourselves (literally and figuratively) as a group which made the challenge more bearable. We found our new running.
After one challenging session I revealed to my friend that something I really liked about these classes was the following. Since I’m a leader in my work and often in my life, I discovered that it is a wonderful thing to be a follower for a change. Keeping up, paying attention to instruction, trying my best and seeking outside correction is really nice. And it made me think about the importance of followership in our lives as leaders.
First: following is not the same as being a passenger. Following is about intent. We all have relationships where we can be the passenger from time to time; where we can relax and let someone else make decisions for us and for our well-being. But actively following is a little bit different from letting your friend choose the wine or the restaurant. Following is an active state, one that is essential to the leadership dynamic.
Barbara Kellerman is an expert on followership and a professor at Harvard. She says that being a good follower is key to being a good leader. If you can follow someone else well, you will add skills that help you become a better leader. She says good followers are “passionately committed and deeply involved” and will strive to support the leader by showing up, standing up for the cause and being a good example to others. Good followers are also good diplomats and understand how to be a valuable part of the team; they are good at playing with others. This is what I appreciate about being in my yoga class; we are part of a group and we show respect and support to others in the group, which, in turn, helps supports the mission of the leader.
In an article called How Becoming a Follower Made Me a Better Leader, the author, Deb Gabor, recounts how she was forced to take a follower role and how that influenced her usual role as leader. She writes that “followership is the ability to take direction, to enthusiastically support a program, to be part of a team and to deliver on promises.” In her experience she had to polish up the skills she needed as a follower that she didn’t rely on much in her leadership role. But she found that adopting these new skills impacted her style and made her a more inclusive boss as a result.
For me, following has been a nice diversion from my usual role. I enjoy being part of a group and fulfilling outside direction and working toward a new goal. And I’m eager to continue being a follower as it allows me to participate without having an agenda and without having to rally the troops. Instead I can focus on my own experience: as a group member, as a newbie, and as someone who gets to be surprised by the twists and turns in the journey of the class. I never knew that followership could provide such contentment and happiness but this happiness has proven to be so valuable; as a person and as an entrepreneur.
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