Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

Christian Knutson | Comments | February 19, 2013

You’ve no doubt heard this phrase at one time or another.  It show’s up repeatedly in business books about leadership, sometimes it’s espoused by sports commentators on a Sunday afternoon, and you may have even used it yourself a time or two.  I know I’ve said it a few times during my career, stated as a means to show my constant drive for excellence and need to have the latitude to carry out my assigned duty.  And to spur along those following me…or convey the message to those leading me that “I’ve got the stick”.  (That’s aviator talk for having control of the airplane.)

What this phrase has meant to me over a career is a much more than the bravado of taking on the world or driving people forward towards success.  It’s a personal statement of persistence, of independence in accomplishing something, and of not simply accepting status quo or merely bumping along in life.  It means that I look for others to decisively lead me, to actively follow me, or to step aside.  In project teams, it’s a reminder that there is to be a decisive leader and active followers…not something in between.

In our everyday work, it’s a reminder that each of us is an individual with educated opinions, our own developed genius’, and individual knowledge that is unique.  As you step into your next project team meeting or interview, let these words run through your mind as a reminder that you are looking for others to lead you or to follow you.  If they can’t do this, then to step aside.

“We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”  George S. Patton

Chris Knutson, P.E., PMP is a leadership and strategy coach, practicing engineer and program manager. He is co-founder of The Engineering Career Coach, a company providing engineers and engineering companies core skills, leadership, and lifestyle design services enabling them to execute their vision. Chris is a retired U.S. Air Force civil engineer officer with over two decades of active duty service leading engineering organizations and multi-million dollar programs around the globe. Learn more about his work and access more resources at The Engineering Career Coach.

Note:  “Lead, follow, or get out of the way” is attributed to Thomas Paine, a figure out of the time of America’s revolution who was an author that penned a number of influential pamphlets that served as a catalyst for the 1776 declaration of independence.

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