Often times, we label "leaders" as "the ones that know all the answers." They know their way through the dark. They can steer the ship through the storm and ensure it finds dry land. But what we don't talk about often enough are how those leaders remain leaders in the long term.
They do so by being led in some facet themselves.
In corporate culture it's fairly straightforward: entry level employee reports to a supervisor, supervisor reports to a manager, manager reports to an executive, executive reports to a senior executive, until at some point you've hit the top of the food chain--whether that be the CEO or the board or whomever. Within that structure it's fairly easy to see that the CEO is a leader to the senior executives, and the senior executives are leaders to the executives, and the executives are leaders to the managers, etc., all the way down to even the entry level employees being leaders to say, interns.
That's where the conversation then tends to stop. Culture believes the ones at the top, they're the real leaders. They've set the tone. But the truth is, that does not mean they have stopped being "led" themselves. It's just the structure of the relationship may be more horizontal than vertical. Maybe instead of being led by someone "above" them, they are being led by someone lateral, someone on their same playing field.
The essence of what I'm saying is this: True leaders never stop being led. They never stop surrounding themselves with people off whom they can bounce ideas, gain feedback, and ultimately inspire their own direction.
One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make, actually, is to think that they have all the answers. They begin to "believe their own press releases," as we say here at Idea Booth. They tunnel vision and begin to lack that wider perspective--because they no longer have a sounding board to hold them accountable.
Regardless of whether you are an intern or a CEO, you will always be both: a follower and a leader. In some circumstances, you will follow because you lack the knowledge or the experience and through following you will acquire what you need to know. In other circumstances, you will inherently step into a leadership role because you do have the knowledge or the experience. Good leaders know this, and see the value in both leading and, in certain moments, following.