Many years ago I remember hearing the phrase from the mouths of these influential mentors “lead, follow or get out of the way.” A “braveheart” like command that when heard summons a boiling caldron of courage and boldness. It’s an announcement of forward movement with or without you. For many years I lived this young arrogant filled motto longing to be important, followed and respected for this type of leadership.
I dont regret my early years of leadership training and experience but I wish I had learned much sooner that while the components of the phrase are real and practical parts of leading, they simply are in the wrong order.
The phrase is credited mostly to Thomas Paine but others like General George S. Patton and media mogul Ted Turner, who “is reported” to have the saying mounted on his desk brought it into pop leadership culture. The phrased mostly used to inspire those to step up and lead in the midst of adversity, war and the competitive business climate. Not to diminish it’s use in these contexts but from a broader view of leadership, does this really work? Is leadership really all about us. Our modern North American culture is intoxicated with itself, “me” is more important than “we.” Is leadership about building our identity or about something, or someone else?
I suggest a re-ordering, “Follow, Lead, then get out of the way.”
Follow first. Joshua is without doubt one of the great accomplished leaders in the Old Testament. If you reviewed his life you would immediately noticed that he followed Moses for over forty years. We have become so impatient in trying to become great leaders but miss the opportunity to become a legendary follower. It’s the place that leadership greatness is cultivated. Joshua is finally given the leadership of the nation of Israel, a perfect time to announce his greatness and lead! Instead he announces that it’s not about himself or the hero leader Moses, it’s about God.
“Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.’ Joshua 1.13
Lead second. In order for me to be a great Godly leader I must regularly remind myself that it is not about me so that when I get the chance to lead it is for a cause bigger than myself. Leading with this perspective creates a healthy weight for God and others that I carry as a steward not an owner. Consider the life of Nehemiah who passionately took on the enormous project of rebuilding the walls in Jerusalem for a very short season in his life. When we get the chance to lead we must all view that it is for a season and it’s not about us.
Finally, get out of the way. It might be the most difficult challenge for any successful leader to know when and how to step down, support and celebrate a new leaders call to steward the cause. When we have a Biblical worldview around leadership we gain clarity that this life is not where we make our name famous, we are to give glory to His name. I love leadership and the chance to lead but I realize that at some point I am to step aside and it will most likely not be in my planned timing. My belief is that great leaders follow, lead and get out of the way many times in their life because they realize it not about themselves. It’s about Him.
So we are now representatives of the Anointed One, the Liberating King; God has given us a charge to carry through our lives—urging all people on behalf of the Anointed to become reconciled to the Creator God. 2 Corinthians 5:20 The Voice