Learning to Follow, By Leading

lead-er-ship,  noun

  • the action of leading a group of people or organization

follower,  noun

    • an adherent or devotee of a particular person, cause, or activity

If I had a plane ticket for every time someone said, “Thanks so much for organizing!” I would be forever on a plane.  I cannot pinpoint when organizing events and people became my thing or even where this particular gene stems from (my mom, perhaps?), but it is firmly entrenched as a trait of mine.  My family, my friends and some perfect strangers are more than happy to let me assume this role and I am grateful for their trust and subsequent gratitude.  It is from these experiences of leading, coordinating, masterminding and organizing that I have learned to be a better, maybe even an expert, follower.  And following can be a whole lot of fun!

Before I go into how to be an expert follower, let’s first consider what you should be looking for in a leader to make this relationship work.  There are two key things to consider:

  • Find a leader who is strong, but open minded, considerate and flexible.  While it is helpful and practical to have one person be the centralized decision maker (aka leader) – you want that person to be open and respectful of other’s opinions.  A completely controlling, my way or the highway, leader can bum out even the most easy going traveller.  Bummed out travelers can lead to a mutiny.  No one wants a mutiny.
  • It is absolutely paramount that your leader shares your same priorities and interests and stamina.  If you are all about nature and your chosen guide is all about museums and churches, this could be a problem.  If you are a go to bed early, get up early kind of person, then a party all night, hit all the hot spots, person won’t work for you.  Pacing of a day is important too. Go, go, go all day people don’t match up well to sit, sit, sit by the pool all day people. Obviously you are not going to find a mirror image, but a large percentage of your likes and dislikes should cross over.  As you are likely already friends, this has probably worked itself out in the wash by now.


With that settled, here are some tips on how to be a good follower:

  1. If you have particular ideas about an upcoming event offer them up EARLY so the planner can take those ideas into account.  Once a trip, for example, is in process it can be difficult for the leader to incorporate your late breaking MUST DO thing into the itinerary.  Early input is helpful.  Late in the game ideas?  Not so much.
  2. If the leader asks for feedback (and a good leader will inevitably ask), GIVE it.  Even if it’s a simple “sounds good!” offer up some support of the leader’s vision.  If you don’t agree with the projected course, articulate why and suggest a riff on the idea or another direction.  Don’t just dispute – offer value, a re-direct and a why – with an offer to help.
  3. Once a decision has been made and/or the trip/dinner/adventure is in progress, then go with it.  Don’t second guess it… don’t offer up quips of “maybe we should have…”  Go. With. It.  If a 9pm dinner reservation is too late for you, see: point #2.   It’s 2 hours, you can swing it.  Once a plan is in place you have forfeited your right to exercise an opinion.
  4. If something doesn’t go well – bad tour guide, not the greatest restaurant, or just a not great location – let it go.  Everyone is going to have bad luck with an experience at some point – I still regret our guide choice in Hiroshima (worst guide ever).  If appropriate, acknowledge that the day/event/tour/dinner was not a favorite, learn from it and move on.
  5. Sharing leadership roles is a perfectly respectable way to go when planning a multi-day adventure. I learned this recently on a trip where three people went ahead and assumed the reigns for various parts of the trips.  They were the vested parties, and worked as checks and balances for one another on the decisions that were made.  This split up the work and resulted in an array of great decisions.
  6. Thank your leader/planner/organizer – profusely and often.  Planning can be lonely and a little stressful. It’s not so much the work of planning, but the stress of assuming other’s happiness while on those precious few days of vacation.  Be mindful to celebrate the leader’s research, decision making prowess and aptitude for organizing.
  7. Being a follower is fun! What a treat to have someone else plan your evening/outing/vacation!  To just wake up and be told what the plan is without worrying about any of the little details is a giant luxury – kind of like childhood!  Good for you (and me!) for being part of a group of friends you can trust with your treasured days of vacation or a day or an evening on the town.


This is not to say I am giving up my leadership role on a whole lot of fronts – I’ve got so, so, so many plans to grab my group and go.  But it is a relief and a pleasure to be able to hand over the reigns now and again,  enjoy the experience and learn a thing or 7 about leading and following along the way.    Always going!  Always learning!



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Space does open up! When it does it’s often at the last minute. Will keep our fingers crossed. Would love to see you at this experience!