How To Shift the Power: Lead, Follow and Get Out of the Way

The following excerpt is from Powershift Principal, Steve Guengerich's new eBook "Naturally Caffeinated: The Community Edition". It features Founder, Chairman and CEO, Steve Papermaster on his thoughts about leadership.

Lead, Follow, and Get Out of the Way

This classic management saying used to end "Or get out of the way." The implication was that a person's role was to be either a leader or a follower. Those uncommitted to doing either well were "lurkers" and should consider finding somewhere else to work.

But, in entrepreneurship, a more fluid blend of all three modes - leading, following, and not inhibiting rapid progress (getting out of the way) - is a more likely norm. But, how do you balance the three? How do important decisions get made, when everyone on the early team has a big stake in the outcome? What is the role of advisors? And what do you do when key advisors disagree? What checkpoints are reasonable for encouraging speed, but avoiding costly mistakes?

Add lessons learned and stories about MANAGEMENT practices - good and bad - for operating a entrepreneurial venture.

Steve Papermaster:

My advice in entrepreneurship is to work with people who you know can handle leading, following and getting out of the way. The hallmark of good leadership is to be able to do all three. This is especially important when stakes are high. You want to encourage people, especially when starting and building companies to really listen, participate, observe, converse, and educate themselves—all of that will help decide which position to take and when.

Of course there will always be disagreements.

While somebody has to be decisive on issues and call the shots, sometimes the best thing for a company is to have people who can fall in line. If the time for voicing differences of opinions is up and there is a strong stance of what needs to be done, it’s important to have everyone else move together.

The worst thing is passive aggressiveness, where people nod their head and say “fine” and then undermine the decision, which means it’s not going to work. You can’t have back-channeling or backstabbing of decisions. It’s not efficient and things can’t get done.

That’s why checkpoints are helpful.

Scheduled or impromptu meetings are helpful and give the chance to air out disagreements and begin to move forward. It can also be about just checking in to see how things are playing out. It’s important to ask for thoughts and other feedback because all of that kind of constant communication can help make a more refined decision. It’s important that everything be on the table and out in the open. All of these are examples of showing that you’re listening and engaged.

I’ll share an example from government officials, because forming teams of leadership is also entrepreneurial.

Hillary Clinton was soundly defeated in a very difficult race by Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Primary. When he became president, he turned around and asked her to become Secretary of State. As a result, she moved from trying to compete for being the top leader in the country to accepting the role of being an advisor and a follower to President Obama in that situation— while at the same time leading as the Secretary of State… as well as (at least theoretically) getting out of the way on other issues.

Politics are full of that. When Ronald Reagan became president, he defeated his former rival, George H. W. Bush. He then turned around and asked Bush to be his vice presidential running mate.

So again, very good leaders also understand when it’s time to be followers. You can be both a follower and a leader, and you can also get out of the way.


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