Good Leaders Learn From Their Followers

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Effective leaders learn as much as they can from their followers.

Good leaders learn from their followers—which is just one more reason why good leaders try to surround themselves with the very best people they can find and then give those people plenty of opportunities to both teach and continue learning.

When computer technology first impacted the publishing industry, I got off to a quick start integrating the two. One of my tricks was to give my associates and my children access to the technology and tell them: “Go play with it. See what it can do and let me know."

That's exactly what they did—and we all learned from one another how to be more productive and creative while spending less time and money on production processes.

But one day I got a call from an elementary school principal who wanted to know if her new computer was equipped for communications. This was back in the day when computers were connected to the internet by phone line, so I asked her to look around the outside of the computer for something that looked like a phone jack.

She seemed very reluctant to try this, so I took a different tack. "Where did you buy it?" I asked. "Actually, a family in the parish gave it to us," she replied. "Do they have a child in your school?" I asked. "Yes," she replied." He's in the first grade. In fact, his parents bought him a new one so they donated his old one to us."

"Great," I exclaimed. "Why not get him out of class and ask him?" I suggested. There was nothing but silence on the line. "Are you there?" I asked.

"Yes, I'm here," she replied. "Why not ask him?" I persisted. "He's a student," she said—clearly indicating that I was telling her to cross a line she could never get over.

"Well, maybe you can ask his parents," I suggested sheepishly. "Yes, I can do that," she said.

I didn't have the nerve to tell her that the reason she thought she could call on me for computer help was that I had been learning a lot from my son, who was in junior high.

Effective leaders learn from their followers—all of them—as much as they can.

Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (Psalms 119:18n, NRSV)


By Owen Phelps

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