A colleague and I were talking recently about some challenges he was having with one of his senior leaders. Through the mentoring and development process, it was becoming clear to him that his well-qualified and confident coachee did not see the importance of learning and feedback. My friend said to me, "I am concerned. He can't lead if he can't follow." That quote has stayed with me for weeks. It has made me think of the importance of always being the teacher and the student. Keeping an open mind and open heart to what we can learn from others is what keeps us grounded, respected, and wise. May this be a reminder to, once in a while, consider following your followers.
Even the best leaders allow themselves to be influenced by other leaders, peers, and their followers. When a leader can sit back and let others share in decision making it reveals a key Emotional Intelligence characteristic: humility. Being able to remain open-minded to different approaches and perspectives allow leaders to remain learners. The strongest teams are built by individuals who recognize each member's unique talent and leverage those strengths collaboratively. A leader who encourages others to teach and continually learn from others (regardless of rank) sets the example that leadership and followership are symbiotic: We lead better because we follow and we follow better because we lead.
Ask yourself how long it has been since you caught yourself on autopilot, doing something that has been done the same way for so long you could do it in your sleep? If you were learning it for the first time today, would you follow the same process? Would you ask for an opinion from another? The more competent we get at our jobs and the more comfortable we get at work, the easier it is to think we are done learning. After all, we know what we know.
Not all decisions should be made by consensus and leaders should not always defer to team input. No one wants to work for someone who cannot make independent decisions or only does things that are popular. Followership from a leader must be demonstrated when key opportunities present themselves. Be on the lookout for them. There is a chance that you don't know what you don't know.