If you read the tag line of my blog you will see the statement “I believe everyone is a leader”. I absolutely believe that! I also believe that leadership has many forms and functions. Watch this short video to see what I mean…
I have always considered myself a first follower. I am a creative person. I love to start things. I love the excitement of a new venture. I am usually pumped about change. And I like getting other people excited and on board with a new idea. But, truth be told, I am not much of a visionary. I don’t have much experience or success with looking out too far into the future to plot a course. That really frustrates me sometimes, because I see the people who are really good at that and I think that I have just as much talent, education, passion, drive, etc. as they do, so why can’t I do that??? The reality is that I’m just not wired that way. I can learn the same skills, read the same books, or attend the same conferences as a visionary but I would never apply my thinking the same way they do.
I had a mentor describe leadership once as being like a railway company. Some people have the job of surveying the land and planning the course for the track layers to put down the tracks. The track layers look at the surveyors map and figure out the best way to make the course work for the engineers to drive the train. Engineers see the track, understand the lay of the land and determine what it will take for the workers to make the train move on those tracks. The workers get direction from the engineer and do what it takes to make the train move and deliver their cargo safely. As with any analogy, this too will breakdown at some point, but you get the idea. The point is that it takes many people to make a train run well. Every job is essential. And it takes a wide variety of personality types to fill those jobs. If you put a visionary in the back of the train to watch the rear wheels they would go mad in no time. Likewise, if you put an engineer out front to survey the land you would never get any plans made.
The reality is that we all have probably done all of these “jobs” at different times in our lives, but most people tend to settle in to one primary role eventually. For example, I know I have done all of these “jobs”, but I see myself fitting into the role track layer quite nicely. Once I catch a vision for something my creative juices start flowing and, for better or for worse, I can be tough to stop once that happens. But like I said, this can be frustrating, also. Because there are times that I want to be a visionary. I want to be way out front deciding the course for myself. I just don’t think that way, though. That doesn’t mean I can never make any plans of my own or that I can’t ever do my own thing. It just means that I need to be aware of this fact and that I need to team up with people who do naturally think and act as “surveyors”, “engineers”, or “workers”.
So my homework for you is this, using the train idea, think about where you see yourself. Are you a visionary, a track layer, an engineer or a worker? Remember, none of them are any better or worse than the other. And as I said earlier, we will likely do all of these “jobs” at some point in our life. But we tend to naturally gravitate to one, or maybe two, of them. Once you think you have it figured out explain this train idea to a friend or family member then ask where they see you and why.
Alright, let me wrap this up by saying that I didn’t just write this post to babble about leadership and trains, or share a funny video. I struggle with this issue all the time. I’m almost 50 years old and I still don’t feel like I have ever decided what I want to do when I “grow up”. I constantly think about the possibility of changing careers or starting my own business. Then I start doubting myself because I’m not much of a visionary. Some days I’d rather just help someone else build their dream than take the risks to build my own. The thought of doing my own thing is kind of scary for my non-visionary, track-laying mind! But as I get older I am realizing that time is passing anyway, so I might as well build MY dream with the time I have left! And writing things like this reminds me that I don’t have to do it alone. I know visionary “surveyors” that can guide me through the planning process and level-headed “engineers” that can teach me the practicalities of running a business day-to-day. So I guess that just leaves actually doing it then. And that’s the easy part… right? 😉