Letting Go of What You Want

Some would say we live in a leader-driven culture; I think it’s fair to simply say that we live in a driven culture, a society which revolves around individual whims and desires and the efforts to see those desires fulfilled. We’re told to grab hold of the things we want, to make things happen.

One lesson I’ve learned in my own followership is that this kind of advice doesn’t lead to the best outcomes in all situations. I need to be able to handle not getting my own way. I need to be able to set aside my own preferences. I need to be able to deal with loss.

Expectations play a massive role in defining the nature of our relationships with others, and unmet expectations can be one of the biggest challenges, one of the biggest distractors, in our collaborative/team experience.

In order to weather these situations, as excellent followers we need to be able to come to grips with the grief and loss of not getting our own way. We need to learn how to be okay with letting go of certain desires as we work with others to fulfill our common purpose and achieve our organizational aims.

I recall some disappointments in my previous team experiences. I had aspirations of having significant roles in teaching/training, writing, decision-making, close collaboration with my superior…and those things didn’t happen. Maybe some of those opportunities for me would have been beneficial to the organization, but once I determined that I couldn’t make them happen, that teamwork was going to look differently than I expected and hoped, I was able to focus on the situation as it was and to maximize my contributions within the organizational reality that existed.

I once witnessed a number of group members who became so disappointed that the organization they had joined included some things that they didn’t like, that their retaliation actually turned into vandalism, as they struck out visibly against the symbols of their missed expectations.

Clearly, this is not the way to handle not getting one’s way if we’re committed to following with excellence and contributing as effectively as we can.

Sometimes ideas of grief, loss, and missed expectations surface when we encounter imposed change. Whether it’s policies, procedures, methods, or some other degree of conformity that seems to be foisted upon us and insisted upon “from on high”, we may react strongly when we feel that our own expectations for our autonomy, our use of time and resources, or our freedom of self-determination is impinged upon.

At that point, we have a choice: hunker down in stubbornness, rebellion, and insubordination, or come to terms with organizational reality by grieving our personal loss and committing to participation.

That process of grieving begins by identifying what was lost–the missed expectation or the change from previous norms–of setting aside what was hoped for, known, or comfortable. But the goal is not resignation and nostalgia; rather, identifying the loss clears the way for appreciating and exploring the new reality which differs from what was anticipated, desired, or part of the previous status quo.

Once we’re able to let go of what we wanted, our hands, minds, and emotional energy can be directed more productively to respond to the obligations and opportunities that now exist. Engaging those avenues of contribution, rather than “kicking against the goads“, is what will enable us to demonstrate our excellent followership and continue to exist as a positive organizational member with a positive experience of group affiliation.

But, as always, such excellent followership comes at a cost. It’s not always easy to let go, and it’s not always necessary to let go. But sometimes it is. And sometimes it’s the only way to get to a right perspective about our circumstances and to be able to live out the most excellent stewardship that’s possible for us within our leader-follower dynamic and our organizational affiliation.


For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:

EmbracingFollowership_CoverTextureEmbracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Kirkdale Press, Feb 2016)

Links to other posts on this site: Blog Post Index

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