Are You A Leader Or A Follower?


(By Lisa Thal) I recently had the opportunity to speak at a business event on leadership. We discussed people we thought were great leaders. Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, our parents, teachers, coaches, and managers were all mentioned. I then asked the attendees if they saw themselves as leaders. Leaders are those who show the way.

We use “lead the way” in many different contexts. Let’s take a look at two of the most common:
1. Act as a guide in advance of others; go first to show someone the way: “He led the team in creating new business.”
2. Be first or most prominent in some field or action: “She led the way in generating the most revenue in the history of the radio station.”

A great debate revolves around the question of whether leaders are born or made. It is easy to track the success of leaders over time and ascribe their success to their schooling or training, but does anything else come into play? This was a great mystery until a few years ago, when a study was published by University College London (Tim Elmore, “Are Leaders Born or Made?”, January 25, 2013). It was the first time researchers could show a link between certain genetic traits and leadership. The research also showed that leadership skills can be learned, but it was the first time a scientific study showed that leadership qualities could also be passed down through generations.

When we ask someone to lead the way, we are making the following statements about their character:
— We trust them based on their previous performance.
— We believe they have our best interests in mind.
— We know they’ve gone down this path before, and we are comfortable with their guidance.
— We think we can learn from their experience.
— We appreciate the fact that they have been successful in the past and we want to benefit from those successes.

I remember my first opportunity in radio sales. It was a station in Wilmington, Ohio. I can remember how excited I was to begin my career for WSWO and WKFI (“We Keep Farmers Informed”). I showed up early to work on my first day and was greeted by the sales manager. He kindly invited me into his office to welcome me and asked, “Do you have any questions? Let me know if you need anything.”

I thought to myself, “It’s my first day, and I’m not sure what to ask other than ‘Where are the restrooms and where is my desk?’” At that moment, I realized my success at this stage was not going to be led by him. So I began to watch and ask questions of the top seller at the station. Linda became my guide and showed me the way. I knew that if ever I had the opportunity to lead a team, I would approach managing differently.

Years later, I was managing a station and was faced with a dip in our ratings and a soft economy. The combination was going to impact our revenue, and my sales team’s income. That was a path I didn’t want to take. I needed to create a strategy for my sales team to earn commissions to offset the agency side of their business.

I decided to lead the way on generating more direct business, which is not affected by ratings. The easiest way to do this was to show them how to do it — instead of just telling them how to do it. I titled the program “Help a Client and Help Yourself.” The very reason we got into sales was to help businesses grow and create deep relationships with them. In the meantime, by supporting these businesses, we generate income for ourselves.

We created a list of clients who were not already doing business with us. We did our research and discovered a valid business reason for each of them to meet with us. From there, we created creative campaigns for them to grow their sales and, more importantly, to support them through a soft economic market. We would meet each day to set our intentions and measure our progress. The team gained confidence, helped each other, earned respect from their clients, and made more money.

What are ways you can serve as an example and lead the way in your current role?

Here are three approaches you can implement tomorrow.
1. Awareness. Become aware of your thoughts and actions. Organize your intentions for what you need to do to lead your team or inspire others to lead.
2. Strategy. Create a daily strategy to lead your team, or ask to lead a project that could impact revenue for your station.
3. Action. Inspire others to lead by encouraging them to accept that role with their clients and peers.

John Maxwell sums up leadership for me: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Lisa Thal is the general sales manager for Hubbard Interactive Cincinnati. She’s also the author of Three-Word Meetings: A Simple Strategy to Engage, Inspire and Empower Your Team. Get it on



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