“Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” - Thomas Paine

“Are you a Leader or a Follower?” When you think about that question, you first need something by which to gauge your response. You could read the latest best seller on leadership skills or watch the hottest new self-help video. Personally, I prefer to study past leaders to see how they lived and try to discover what defined them as a leader. As a result, I have noticed  a pattern with great leaders throughout history. They seem to always be a work in progress--that is, they are on a constant quest for betterment, not just of themselves, but those around them as well. One of my favorite quotes on leadership comes from one of the founding fathers of the United States, Thomas Paine:  “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

Learning to lead: a lifetime commitment

Throughout my life, I have always tried to be a leader and not a follower. I’ve been captain of a high
school sports team, a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, a one-third owner of a small engineering and land surveying company, and I am currently the Manager of the Civil Engineering Department here at Luckett & Farley, the largest architectural and engineering firm in Kentucky. Each of these positions has come with its own unique set of challenges. As a sports captain, I needed to motivate my peers to perform their best, as I set the example through my words and my actions. Serving as a Sergeant in the Marines, I had to balance giving orders while maintaining a level of respect from my platoon. Being a partner of an engineering company meant I had to look out for the fiscal health of the company while also maintaining the morale of the staff. And finally, today I have to rely on all of my past experiences to provide the best example possible for both Luckett & Farley’s  civil engineering department and the firm as a whole.

Do you lead or follow?

As part of my on-going quest to be a leader, not a follower, I am always searching for the next great idea. Recently, I came across an excellent poem written by an unnamed author titled “Leaders vs. Followers.” Eager to see where I fit, I read the poem in its entirety and was left with some uncertainty. I decided to go back through the poem one phrase at a time to once again see how I measured up. The reality is that after all these years of striving to be a leader, I still have things that I need to work on. Being a true leader is always a work in progress. I challenge you to read and see where you stand.

Leaders vs. Followers

When leaders make a mistake, they say, "I was wrong."
When followers make mistakes, they say, "It wasn't my fault."

Leaders work harder than a follower and always seem to have more time;
Followers are always "too busy" to do what is necessary.

Leaders work through a problem;
Followers try to go around it and never seem to get past it.

Leaders make and keep commitments;
Followers make and forget promises.

Leaders say, "I'm good, but not as good as I ought to be;"
Follower say, "I'm not as bad as a lot of other people."

Leaders listen;
Followers just wait until it's their turn to talk.

Leaders respect those who are superior to them and try to learn from them;
Followers resent those who are superior to them and try to find chinks in their armor.

Leaders feel responsible for more than their job;
Followers say, "I only work here."

Leaders say, "There ought to be a better way to do this;"
Followers say, "That's the way it's always been done here."


Real-life leading

Being a leader doesn’t have to mean being at the top of the chain of command.  It doesn’t demand being the CEO of a successful business, a high-rankling military officer, or even an elected official.  Though leaders often find themselves with such important titles, a title alone does not a leader make.  We can lead no matter who we are or where we are in life; we need only to strive each day to be the best we can be and to use our abilities to help the people around us be the best they can be.

Will you lead, follow or get out of the way?

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