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Why would anyone want to be led by you?

A member of my staff, affectionately known as "The Professor," handed me a Harvard Business Review article recently entitled "Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?" I read it and agreed with the points made about exposing vulnerability, relying on intuition to gauge timing, and managing with tough empathy. I have lived each point--doing it right and doing it not-so-right.

Reflecting on the question I posed in the title of this article, 35 years in this business has convinced me that what is important is not that everything goes right but that what you are doing is right. I doubt whether a leader is alive today who is not known by the scars obtained from fighting for a purpose or cause burning within him or her.

When you expound the purpose, you expose the problems. No true leadership is possible without facing problems. The role of leadership in declaring problems that are obvious to everyone is clearly not to bring new insight but to establish the credibility to lead. If part of leadership is painting a compelling picture of the future and inspiring people to that new vision, how will anyone have confidence in your ability to lead or create that "new world" if you cannot even engage the present reality effectively?


Leaders create problems by changing expectations and by creating a greater sense of urgency. If people perceive that they have all the time in the world even for lofty and noble goals, they may not feel any sense of crisis or problem.

When leaders increase the urgency, they accelerate the need for immediate response. This urgency may now be a tremendous source of crisis. What once may have been an area of great calm may become the center point for problem solving. I guarantee that the only problems you will solve are those you engage; the only problems that you engage are the ones you perceive. If the situation is calm, you are probably in the eye of a hurricane!

As tightly as a leader must grasp purpose and vision, he or she must equally relinquish the grip on the creation of a plan to accomplish the mission. Too frequently we confuse the mantle of leadership with a monopoly on the creative process. With creative implementation often comes the attitude that the "how" always must come from us. We should be stewards of a group of dreamers; our most important role is to identify a great idea when we hear it.


Leadership in the change process is less about being the primary advocate of change and more about being the primary example of change. A strong faith in yourself is vital, or you will spend your life seeking the approval of others. Nobody is going to follow someone who is not confident in who he or she is or where the individual is going. Nobody!

If you want me to follow you, do what is right. Do not shy away from dealing with problems that might arise. Let others share in the creative process knowing that you are not perfect either. Set the example by doing the absolute best you can and treating people as you would like to be treated along the way. If you do that, I will follow you.

Remember that we fight the greatest battles of life in the silent, private chambers of our own souls. When you win battles there, you feel an inward peace and confidence. Outward victories will surely follow. When you look behind you, I will be there!


This is the final article in a series on key management issues by Willis Potts. The four other articles in the series appeared in Solutions! earlier this year. To locate these articles online, go to and type "Potts" in the search engine. Choose "All Journals." The articles will be listed on "Search Results."



Willis Potts is vice president and general manager, Inland Paperboard and Packaging, Rome, Georgia, USA. He is also a member of the Solutions! Editorial Board and is an active leader within PIMA and TAPPI. Prior to joining Inland, Potts served for many years with Union Camp Corp. Contact him by email at:
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Title Annotation:Manager's Notebook
Author:Potts, Willis
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Previous Article:Jumpstarting the industry.
Next Article:Giving technical presentations to non-technical audiences; part 1: five ways to beat stage fright.

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