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Follow first -- then lead


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If you want to lead, you must first learn to follow. Ben Franklin said that.

And if you want to be a corporal in the Marines, you have to be a private first.

How about a famous chef? You’ll peel potatoes long before you’re the next Wolfgang Puck. And you’ll learn to wash dishes and make gravy for a Gordon Ramsey before you ever run a kitchen.

That’s just how it works. Follow first, lead second.

But in business, we hire college graduates to manage because they have a degree. Why is that?

At last count, there are a trillion-and-six books on leadership. There are countless coaches and seminars and gurus teaching the art of management.

Do you know what they have in common? They’re geared for people who never practiced following. They’re designed to replace doing with reading.

 “But I had a job all through college,” you argue.

Oh? Did you take a job to learn the art of work – or for Friday night beer money? Because just showing up isn’t enough. Did you work with the goal of being worthy of promotion? That’s what Marines and chefs do. They do time learning to be worthy of leading.

Follow a leader, and you learn to lead.

In The Karate Kid, Mr. Miaggi didn’t teach Jersey Shore to block kicks. He taught him to move his hands. Peeling potatoes and washing dishes are the kitchen equivalent of wax on.

“Yes, Sir” and cleaning latrines are the Marine equivalent of wax off. Until Daniel-san learned to follow, he could never hope to lead or succeed. It wasn’t until he obeyed that he became the best…around.

Companies that hire from within, selecting grunts who prove they can follow, are well-run and successful. A business degree is no more qualification to manage than a uniform makes a Marine, or a cookbook makes a chef. It isn’t the title – it’s what it took to get the title that matters.

Corporals and chefs are leaders because of the steps it takes to become one.

If you must read a book on leadership, find one that teaches you to follow and get that part down. Only then will you be fit for command.

And if you want good managers, find your best followers and train them to lead.

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David Sneed

David Sneed is the owner of Alpine Fence Company and the author of" Everyone Has A Boss; The Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company. As a Marine, father, employee and boss, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the benefits of a strong work ethic to entry and mid-level employees. Contact him at  David@EveryoneHasABoss.com

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