In the business world, as in life, there are leaders and followers. It takes all kinds for a company to succeed. Too many trying to lead breeds a competitive, non-collaborative environment. However, a lack of leadership entirely spells certain doom.
Some businesses are more innovative than others; these organizations are always keeping one eye on the future. For example, Google is known to provide employees with paid time off to work on their own projects, which pays off huge for the brand when staff have breakthroughs.
Yet for every company that nurtures a creative environment and empowers employees to try new things, there are many more that (intentionally or not) strive for mediocre and stifle creativity. They want designated people to lead, and the rest of the company to fall in line as followers:
Don't ask too many questions.
Don't have any big ideas.
Don't scare people off with too much change.
But you don't have to be the one throwing yourself at management with new ideas all the time. Sometimes, there's more value in supporting someone else's idea, even if it seems nuts to start with.
Do you remember Derek Sivers's epic "How to Start a Movement" TED talk? It turned into a viral video that spread like wildfire about five years ago, largely because of his clever demonstration using real video of people at a music festival. Check it out:
Derek's advice is simple: The most powerful people are not the leaders, but those who follow them first and turn them into leaders.
Yet in super competitive work environments, it's easy to lose sight of this truth. It's not just in the corporate world, either -- think about the startup space. Everyone is scrambling to be the next big thing, to take huge leaps, to fail fast. You want to get promoted, or you want to get funding, or you want to grow exponentially faster than your competitors. It seems like you have to rush to market so fast that we have startups scrambling to market products they haven't even finished designing yet.
There's so much pressure to be the next "big thing."
You want to be a star.
You'll feel like a failure if you don't score huge this time -- with this project, or this business, or this deal.
What if, more often, being the next big thing meant strategically identifying the best leaders to support?
What if, instead of chasing fleeting glory, you chose the "nut" with the best chance of moving the right project forward and gave that person your full support instead? It doesn't mean you're riding someone else's coattails for your own benefit; not at all. It has everything to do with being a solid team player who knows how to identify and support the right leaders and ideas.
You could be the impetus for that person transitioning from lone nut to accomplished leader.
You can't jump on board with just any leader or any idea, though. Here's how you can pick a winner:
- Take the time to listen and converse with co-workers, paying close attention to their ideas. Evaluate the merit of each idea to determine which ones are worth learning more about.
- Dig deeper. If you hear something you like, don't sit back and wait for the person to lead. Give them a push by requesting more information and providing feedback and advice.
- Attempt to understand as many sides of each issue as possible. It's easy to get so excited about an idea that you never consider what could go wrong. Protect yourself by taking the time to forecast different potential outcomes.
- Don't think about the here and now. Think about the future. The "nut" may be well ahead of his or her time. Look to the future and how this person's idea could change the company and/or industry for the better.
- Picture yourself getting involved. Where do you fit in? How can you help this person achieve success? What type of contribution can you make? What value can you add to the project? You don't want to jump on the person's back for a free ride. Instead, pinpoint your value and how you can contribute.
- Make sure this person is ready to lead. Jumping onboard because of the idea without considering the leadership abilities of the person is reckless. A lot of startups fail because the founder just isn't ready or equipped to succeed. You don't want to get caught up in a great idea being driven to ruin by a poor leader.
Contrary to popular belief, it is often better to follow than to lead. Just make sure you know which leader is worth following!