First Follow, Then Lead

“So, do you see yourself as a leader or a follower?” Invariably, applicants are trained to emphatically say “leader” followed by extensively rehearsed anecdotes of their greatness at the helm of an organization or project. One of my favorite questions to ask med school applicants was to describe an experience in which the interviewee was a follower, what they learned, and how they applied it to their subsequent pursuits. I really got to see how an applicant matured from their choices.

No one is born a leader, but we’re all keen observers by nature. We see the pitfalls and successes of those who’ve come before us, and we try to adjust our own paths to accomplish our goals effectively. So why is it so frowned upon to be called a follower? Maybe because it implies inexperience or lack of ambition? Perhaps, but I don’t view it as a bad thing. It’s a point along a timeline of self-development.

Look at social media outlets like Twitter who have taken the term “follower” to an entirely new level. There’s no leader-follower delineation. Everyone is on the same playing field, and we’re all followers of each other’s influence. We learn, we grow, and in turn, we share. In doing so, we become the leaders for a new generation of followers to reap the knowledge and experience we publicize.

Whether you’re trying to acquire a new skill or pursue a career, follow those who have come before you and learn from them. Only once you’ve gathered lessons as a follower can you feasibly lead.

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