I appreciate when books help to give us proper perspective and to remind us of our humanity. There is no lack of leadership materials that paint big visions of people who can change the world, who can be anything they want to be if they just try hard enough. There’s no gap in the literature of extolling the inherent hero-nature and nearly superhuman qualities of leaders.
One book that helps to remind us of our human realities is Leading with a Limp, by Dan Allender. Thankfully, it’s not just an exercise in humility, but a guidebook for working in spite of, and because of, our limitations.
However, leaders aren’t the only ones who limp. Leaders aren’t the only ones with limitations.
This is a human reality, and certainly extends to followers as well.
Where is the book Living with a Limp?
Having recently attended a leadership development program where one of the seminars was entitled “Leading with a Limp,” it seems worthwhile to consider the concept of ‘limping’ through the lens of followership.
Just as all leaders are “poor” leaders—impoverished in some areas of ability, awareness, expertise, experience, etc.—all followers have their own struggles, gaps, shortcomings, and needs.
Perhaps one of the unique ways this reality displays itself in the life of followers as compared to the role of leaders, is in the challenge of keeping up. Often, the role of leader is seen as the one who charges forward, who’s out front, tackling new horizons.
As exciting as that is, does anyone ask whether the followers can keep up? While leaders are not the only ones with vision or enthusiasm, it may well be the case that followers have a different set of capacities or variety of focus, and they certainly have a different role and may employ their energies in different ways. The result may be that, while the leader leaps ahead, the followers are limping behind.
The leader may bound ahead, but it is often the case that the followers are the ones responsible for the individual steps to get us from where we are to where we are going. It’s not that followers can’t make a leap of vision or faith, but their role requires attention to the intermediate tasks of getting from here to there. That’s the nature of having different organizational roles and contributions.
And so the challenge to leadership is to ensure you take everyone else along with you. While dealing with your own limps, it’s important to be aware of these areas of gap/poverty in your followers as well. Failure to do so will result in struggles with a sense of ownership, plummeting morale, and exhaustion.
Rather than striving to fulfill the endeavor, the followers left to limp end up focusing on merely surviving the journey. In such an environment, there is no way you will ever see the best possible performance, participation, and engagement from us.
In contrast to some popular notions, I don’t think leadership is so much about being out ahead as it is moving all people in the right right direction, toward the goal. That usually requires a diversity of resources, including constructing networks of support and guiding from behind (see Chapter 6 of Embracing Followership)—it cannot all be on the leader (who has his/her own limps) to overcome the limps of each follower.
At the same time, the leader can practically be involved in:
- offering, clarifying, & reminding of direction
- removal of obstacles (e.g. bureaucratic red tape)
- facilitating access to resources
- providing encouragement & affirmation
- recruiting more team members
- sponsorship & networking
I have heard it said that leadership is “taking people where they don’t want to go” or “where they didn’t know they wanted to go.” Instead, I would see leadership as “helping people to get to where they otherwise could not venture.”
Instead of seeing individual limps as the limiting factor for organizational success, they should be viewed as the central issue of concern. Because after all, any organization is a collection of humans, and we all have limitations. Pretending those realities don’t exist because of the excitement of the vision out on the horizon doesn’t lead to achievement or accomplishment.
Rather, engaging those limitations directly, and doing the work of leadership to facilitate overcoming challenges and obstacles, is the key to moving everyone forward in the group endeavor.
One of the strengths in ensuring that all of your followers don’t look like you—and don’t look like one another—is that the various limps and strengths can compensate for each other. Where I limp, I can lean on someone else’s strength. And, if enabled and encouraged to do so, others can lean their limps on me. It’s being out of sync with each other, in the very best of ways.
We all have our limps. How will we lead? How will we lean? And how will we do so together?
For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following and leading with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:
Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Feb 2016), and A Discussion Guide for Teams & Small Groups (Dec 2017) —