Jibe Ho! Lessons in Leadership
...sometimes you have to follow
In business, we focus so much on
being leaders and developing our leadership skills
that we forget - sometimes you have to follow, too.
The other day I was reminiscing with my sister, Ann, about a
memorable Christmas gift we received from our parents when we
were 12 and 13: a little "Sailfish" sailboat.
We were thrilled when summer came and we could take sailing
lessons on Rehoboth Bay in Delaware, where our grandparents
had a beach cottage. After our instructor had pronounced us
"good enough," we entered the competitive races.
Until that time in my life, I don't think I had any idea how
competitive I was, and how much I really wanted to win. But
there I was, floating among what seemed like hundreds of other
young sailors, thinking: I have to figure out how to win.
So I looked to the leader - an 18-year-old college girl who
always seemed to dominate these races - and I became her much
younger, probably super-annoying shadow.
Everywhere the girl went, I was right behind her. Whatever she
did, I did. And every time she turned around, there I was. I
studied what she did, how and when she tacked or jibed, and I
copied her every move.
I came in second - pretty good for a beginner!
Even though the girl I followed wasn't exactly a willing
teacher, I've come to think of her as my first mentor. And
what I've learned is that if you want to reach your goals
quickly, follow someone who knows what they're doing.
You'll be the one leading the way in no time.
Playing "Follow the Leader" in Business
1. Chart your course. While I had to know
where the buoys were and which way the wind was blowing, you,
too, need to be clear on what you want to do, where you want
to go, and what hurdles might stand in your way. With your
vision in place, you can identify the areas in which you feel
you need extra support or guidance.
2. Know whom you're trying to impress.
Rather than race spectators or your fellow sailors, I'm
talking about your niche market for your creative product. You
need to know exactly who your ideal customer is - and be
totally clear on what your product line does for your ideal
3. Pick a winner. Is there someone in
your field whose accomplishments you admire? Network and seek
out mentoring relationships with successful people who've been
in your shoes. Take them to lunch, schedule a phone call,
start a conversation with them on their blog or on Twitter.
Then ask them about the course they took in achieving their
success. (There are even free online options for business
mentors, including SCORE.org, a resource partner of the SBA.)
4. Stick close behind the leader as you learn the
ropes. Sign up for their newsletters, register for
their RSS feeds, follow them on Twitter - whatever it takes to
get familiar with the strategies and tactics they use in
business. While you might model some of their behavior at the
start, soon you'll develop your own strategy - and enjoy the
ride as you sail on by.
5. Don't forget to look backward, and lend a hand.
When you've started to reap the rewards of your business
mentoring relationships, remember that we get what we give.
Become a mentor yourself!
Keep in mind that ultimately, your competition is
in the mirror - and that no one can take away your creativity.
© 2009 Jane Button International
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