Critical lesson in followershipA few months ago when I was just beginning a very personal journey that took me to the ballroom dance floor, I wrote a blog post entitled, “7 Lessons the Tango Teaches About Being a Great Follower.” For, as much as I love to dance, I have a genuine desire to be an exceptional follower. And while I would absolutely include every one of those 7 lessons I originally mentioned as a critical ingredient of followership:

  • Trust
  • Positioning
  • Distance
  • Energy
  • Listening
  • Attitude
  • Openness/Adventurousness

…I missed an essential ingredient: Connection.

Maintaining a connection is something we tend to think about in family and romantic relationships, but not typically something we consider important in regard to our career.

However, based on what I’ve learned recently, I think it’s the absolute starting point in every leader-follower relationship. It’s the foundation on which the other attributes of followership may build.

Let me explain… Last week during one of my classes as my instructor Joel and I were tangoing, I got in his way several times and stopped dancing out of frustration. “I’m so sorry, I am clearly not following you,” I remarked to Joel. “You’re actually doing the steps correctly,” he responded, “but you’re so focused on them, and trying to anticipate what is coming next, that you’re not connected to me.” He was right. We may have been physically connected, but none of my energy or attention had been with him. As a result, even though I was technically executing, the dance was a mess. We didn’t have our solid foundation on which to build.

Connection as leader-follower, and in any relationship, involves:

  • Being fully in the present moment rather than getting ahead of ourselves (Be honest with yourself about how often you do this!)
  • Being fully connected to yourself (this is essential, don’t overlook it)
  • Being aware of the energy between you and the other person – where it’s centered and what it’s made up of (Anger? Trust? Jealousy? Loyalty? Excitement?). Important note: if the energy is negative, we will need to transform it if we want to be a masterful team.
  • Giving our full attention to the leader/our partner (there will always be distractions, how we handle them is a reflection of our focus)
  • Being prepared for, and receptive to, both the overt and subtle cues the leader will give us in regard to vision, direction and strategy

Once we are fully connected in our leader-follower roles, we have a foundation on which to build. Trust, energy, openness and attitude can emerge from within. We will be mutually empowered to listen to each other and to be aware of proper distance and positioning. Amazingly enough, I’ve learned that when I’m fully connected as a follower, both my job and the leader’s job are abundantly easier!

Just as dancing is an art, so too is leading and following. We can execute our strategic plan and still miss our objectives if we get disconnected along the way – from ourselves or from our leader. This is because we’ll miss the cues along the way: the directional changes, adjustments due to unforeseen circumstances, and new strategies that pop-up unexpectedly.

If you were ever in a role where you thought you were executing your strategies brilliantly but ended up off course or off on your own, this is very likely what happened to you! And if you’re a leader who is wondering why your followers seem “out in left field,” ask yourself if you’ve focused on your connection to them, and if you make it easy for others to feel connected to you as their leader.

How will you hone your connection as leader-follower?


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Photo of Ballroom Dancing I by npmeijer.