Leadership is more than winning. Leadership knows how to stage yourself and teams for success. Sometimes being a fast follower is the pace to keep. Sometimes pacing behind a leader allows you to draft and overtake them at the right moment. In both cases, it’s a conscious choice.
When I ran cross country in school, I always placed 3rd or 4th. The 1st and 2nd place runners were still miles ahead of me. I had a friendly competition for 3rd place with all the “middle” packs of runners. Sometimes, the leaders would run short and leave an opening for a 2nd place finish. In cross country, that was good enough for me.
I am all about the first-place finishes in business, even if that means pacing behind the pack to overcome a first-place competitor. The difference is I am not looking for the leader. I am a leader in making choices.
Many factors can hold you back. In Auto Racing, we focus on the drivers, but teams determine a winner. Not enough equipment, the wrong setup, a poorly timed pitstop, or just a bad day can lose the race. Never forget that when you choose to hold back for a better shot at the win, you are making a choice. We focus on the driver, but it’s the team.
Your team wants to know you can come through when the time is right. That takes selling. A real leader sells the vision and accepts the challenge of making a choice. Leaders sell the value of holding back or making sacrifices in the short term. Nothing is more challenging than building an “A” team and having them idle.
Building up an energy reserve when running cross country is one of the hardest things to do. You plan your moves on a very long timeline and wait for the opportunity to burst into a leadership position. It takes an understanding of yourself and the resources you have, not unlike managing a budget. Budgets are your energy and your leash. There is never enough budget to do everything you want. Measure your progress for success when running the race. Staging for the push and not depleting yourself in the process. A sudden burst of energy spent at the wrong time will lose the race and maybe your ability to finish.
Don’t look for a leader; choose to follow. Make it a mindful choice based on reality and capability. Frame the argument for customers and staff to follow. There is a 1st, 2nd, and everyone else mentality in every race, but that’s not the whole story. We have come from behind victories, fast follower models in business, and late bloomer success stories all around us.
The difference is this: Followers, who are already leaders, win all the time.