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Why Everyone Should Be Talking About Following Instead Of Leading

Why Everyone Should Be Talking About Following Instead Of Leading
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Leadership is all the rage. If you want to be a better leader, there’s a whole genre of books out there to tell you how to do it. Thousands of web articles have been written on the topic. Entire organizations have arisen with the purpose of training people how to become more effective leaders. No one ever stops to ask why we would even want to be leaders. The assumption as that it’s something we should strive for–that leading is better than following.

But is following really all that bad? We don’t see many books or articles written on “followership.” Not many people are interested in becoming better followers. The very notion strikes at our sense of autonomy and self-respect. Why would we want to learn how to follow people? What good would that do us? Well, I’m glad you asked…

1. Following Helps You Learn More

Followers are learners. The more you follow, the more knowledge you gain. As a leader, you may begin to think you’ve got it all figured out. Following brings you back down to reality and enables you to continually teach yourself new things.

Followers use social media such as Facebook and Twitter as a news feed to gather information rather than as a broadcast platform to promote their ideas. Followers go to networking events to collect business cards and learn about other industries rather than going to distribute business cards and promote themselves.

Followers are students. They’re always looking for an opportunity to learn rather than an opportunity to teach. And, as we all know, knowledge is power.

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2. Following Gets You Mentors

When you focus exclusively on being a leader, you miss the opportunities to learn from other leaders. Adopting the posture of a follower allows you to find a special guide that will teach you how to navigate life.

Mentors have the power to inspire us to become better human beings. If you ask many of the great thinkers, creators, or leaders what they attribute their success to, they will probably mention a mentor who showed them the way.

When you declare yourself a follower, you open up the door for a mentor to take you under his or her wing. There are always people out there willing to show you the way; you just have to be enough of a follower to let them.

3. Following Fuels Your Creativity

Creative people aren’t so much creative as they are resourceful. The most innovative people will freely admit that they’ve simply built on the insights that came before them.

Creative people borrow. Painters follow the techniques of other painters. Writers follow the literary devices of other writers. Superman, our most iconic of superheros, was fashioned from the creators’ obsession with the pulp fiction and detective stories of their childhood.

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If you aren’t following other people and ideas in your field, you simply will have no fodder for your creativity. Inspiration doesn’t arise from a vacuum. It comes from other creative people making things that they too borrowed from other people. If you aren’t following, you aren’t creating.

4. Following Engages You with the Community

Leaders can become detached from their communities. You don’t engage much with other people when you are on the high horse or in the ivory tower. Interaction happens on the ground level.

When you are a follower, you interact with other followers. Being part of the “fan club” is less about being a “fan” than it is about being in the “club.” You share ideas with people and build relationships that will last a lifetime.

Following makes people like you. It says to those gathered around, “Hey, I’m one of you.” When you follow, you become part of a community of followers. And we’re social creatures. The community is everything.

5. Following Increases Your Accountability

When you follow a certain set of ideas, values, or rules, you become accountable to those concepts. Whether it’s a religious group, a political group, a professional group, or a social group, you take on responsibility when you become a member of the tribe.

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When people are counting on you, you become more disciplined. You manage your time and tasks more effectively. You become less lazy and more motivated. There’s nothing quite like somebody watching you to convince you to get stuff done.

Following makes you responsible. If you want to continue to be accepted in the community of followers, you’ve got to contribute. You’ve got to be dependable. And, as you become more accountable to others, you will also become more accountable to yourself.

6. Following Enables You to Adapt

Many times, leaders will persist in a certain direction even when it doesn’t make sense. They feel like they are tied to the decisions they’ve made and changing their minds will make them look weak.

As a follower, you always have an out. If necessary, you can always abandon the cause in favor of more noble ones. You can always pivot into a more profitable direction. No one is looking at you, so you can more easily make a change.

Following enables you to be nimble. It gives you the flexibility to dodge obstacles and travel down a series of paths that make the most sense. When you are following, you choose what you follow. Leaders don’t always have that luxury.

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7. Following Makes You a Leader

The best leaders start out as followers. You become a leader, not by asserting your authority, but rather by spending a lifetime following the right things. Leaders are people who have mastered all of the things mentioned above: learning, being mentored, fueling their creativity, participating in the community, increasing their accountability, and being willing to adapt.

Leaders are people who have mastered followership. They have paid their dues and now people see them as someone worth following. Followers are leaders in the making.

As you can probably gather, I am not suggesting that you blindly follow whichever person, organization, or idea that you stumble across. “Blind” following never did anyone any good. But, if you follow with intention–with the desire to grow and better yourself as a person, the results will blow you away.

The key is to follow the right things. And when you can develop the wisdom to know the difference, following will change your life.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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