Pack Leadership: Following

Posted on October 25, 2009


Kai, flat-coat/chow mix, and Rustle, miniature poodle

Kai, flat-coat/chow mix, and Rustle, miniature poodle

When I was in the service, they told us that to be a good leader, you had to be a good follower. I didn’t get it.

My leadership started by the time I was two years old, when the first of my younger sisters was born. From that point on, I was in charge of something or someone. By 1999, I was sick of it. I’d been on the customer service phones for five years (18 months is the average lifespan in the industry). I’d been a leader for decades. I made a decision to hang it up.

I moved over to R&D, where I created role-playing game product for some of the greatest brands in the business, including Dungeons & Dragons, Marvel comics, and Star Wars. In the process, I had to learn how to shut up. I wasn’t in charge anymore. My job was to listen, and to do. It was quite an adjustment. I learned a huge amount, though. I learned to differentiate between workers who brought problems, and workers who brought solutions. I learned to recognize situations I could handle, and those that required a supervisor.

I can’t recommend giving up leadership. It’s hard to come back after you give it up, even if you have the skill and the drive to do so. I can recommend trying to put yourself in your boss’ shoes. Try to figure out what she (or he) needs, and be someone who supplies it.

I strongly recommend against letting your dogs be in charge! Hold that alpha position with calm, assertive energy. What you should do is watch the dynamic of leader/follower among your dogs. I’ve found, for example, that short-circuiting the leader/follower cycle can stop unwanted behavior in its tracks. If I can get Kai to come inside, Rustle is less interested in barking – because he doesn’t have the big dog backing him up. Kai wants to dominate Rustle, so if Rustle is getting rewards, Kai will imitate Rustle’s behavior. By recognizing the dynamic, I can manipulate it to get the behaviors I need.

Turns out those Army instructors were right. To be a better leader, I had to learn about following.