Lead. And follow.

Yes, you have to do both. And the trick is knowing when to lead. And knowing when to follow.

Back in the days of the one-way communications, it was easy, because your mission was to lead. There were no real feedback loops, so you just pushed. Sure, you wanted (and still do) to lead in your industry and lead the competition, but you also wanted to get people to follow you. After all, leaders can’t be leaders unless they have someone following them.

But now, in the land of social media and social communications and communities and instant feedback, brands need to learn when it’s appropriate to lead and when it’s appropriate to follow. Not follow their competitor and do something just because the guy down the street is doing it. But follow the lead of your customer. Because if you’re paying attention, they’ll point you in the right direction. Great leaders know when to follow, for when they are tuned in to the needs of those around them, they listen. They change course as needed. And that can only come from active listening that becomes action.

via ONE/MILLION on flickr

Back in the pirate days, each boat was a democracy. The sailors would elect their captain and could oust him (and in the rare occasions, her) whenever they wanted. So that captain had to lead in a way that gained the confidence of his crew, but he also had to be plugged in to the culture and know when to back off and take cues from his fellow pirates, or else they would replace him. Now think of each brand as a pirate ship and you get the picture.

So know when to lead. And know when to follow. There’s a balance there. How do you find it? Participate in the lives of your customers and employees. And it will soon be as clear as the nose on your face.

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