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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.sailing
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 customer.
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 Design2Market Success
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