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LEAD

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

Left-lane hogs on America's highways are a motoring metaphor for all that is wrong in the world.
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I was on the Interstate the other day, stuck behind a car that was hogging the passing lane. He was traveling slowly, refusing to move over, and creating a dangerous bottleneck of frustrated drivers behind him. I had much more of an opportunity than I would have liked to wonder if he was oblivious, or self-righteous, or just enjoying a power trip.

Suddenly, it hit me. Left-lane hogs are a metaphor for all that is wrong in the world.

My wife has probably heard me mutter the same remarkably clean, all-purpose epithet in reply to these kinds of left lane hogs quite a few times recently, as we traveled from New York to New England four times in five weekends. It's a quote reportedly from Thomas Paine (or maybe not): "Lead, follow, or get out of the way!"

("I think it's 1,014 times, but who's counting," my wife said after I told her about this column.)

You might be nodding your head at this point. As an entrepreneur, you've trained yourself to see opportunities where others chafe at problems. You cringe at obvious inefficiencies while others go along simply because that's how things have always been done. It can almost be physically uncomfortable for you to watch people stand in the way of progress, holding tightly to scraps instead of taking chances and trying to build something great.

And if, on occasion, you find that you're the bottleneck--if you see others doing a better job than you are of solving a problem -- you either want to hitch yourself to their efforts or take inspiration from them to redouble your own attempts. Either way, it's about progress, about improving our world, and about pursuing opportunity.

Fortunately, people seem to be waking up to the idea that left-lane hogs on the highway are dangerous, and doing something about it. For those who might need a gentle reminder in other areas of life, however, I've put together an easy checklist:

  • Do you have an innovative idea that could improve your community or even the world? Lead!
  • Are you watching a trailblazer whose progress could have great impact and lead to even better opportunities? Follow!
  • Are you blocking others from pursuing great ideas? Get out of the way!

Now let's mix them up a bit:

  • Do you have a sudden insight into how to improve a problem faced by lots of people? Lead!
  • Are you afraid that someone else's success might impede your standing or make you seem less important? Get out of the way!
  • Do you see someone else who has an innovative idea and who could use your support?  Follow!
  • Are you a bureaucrat enforcing rules that don't make any sense? Get out of the way!
  • Do you see a leadership vacuum, in which people are milling around aimlessly because nobody has taken responsibility? Lead!
  • Are you a person who would like to lead some day, but you realize you're not yet ready? Find a great leader, and then--follow!
  • Are you a politician impeding positive change because you want to hold it hostage to a pet project or petty gripe? Get out of the way!
  • Has a true leader asked for your support--and even more important, have you offered it? Follow!
  • And finally, just to bring things back around, are you hogging the passing lane on the highway? Get out of the way!

Want to read more, make suggestions, or even be featured in a future column? Contact me and sign up for my weekly email.

Marshall Goldsmith: Stop Winning Too Much

Last updated: Jun 10, 2014

BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist

Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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