Archive for October, 2011

Are you a leading follower?

Leaders often find insights by examining the opposite of common knowledge. For example, traditional wisdom might say to collect all necessary information before making a decision.

Colin Powell says that’s too much. During his military career, he tried to never make a decision without 40% of the required information. And he always pulled the trigger after getting 80% of the information.

He recognized the danger in over-thinking. He understood paralysis by analysis. He knew indecision kills.

Is it possible to learn something about leadership by examining the concept of followership?

We hear much about leadership. We don’t hear much about followership. I have heard of Leadership Boerne. I have even graduated from it. I have not heard of Followership Fredericksburg.

If you search Amazon for books on leadership, you’ll find more than 71,000 options. Search “followership” and get 181.

Jack Welch, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Margaret Thatcher are household names. Frank Morton, Bill Edwards, Janet Jones are not.

Following is not glamorous or glorious. It is not in vogue in today’s self-exalting world where worth is measured by number of Twitter followers, not by tweeters followed.

You follow much more than you lead. For every one organization that you lead, you probably follow in ten others. Even in the one that you lead, you also must follow.

You may manage your department but answer to your CEO. You may run a nonprofit but answer to the board. You may lead your family but would be wise to answer to God and the mentors he puts in your life.

In these instances and in general, your ability to lead is directly proportional to your ability to follow.

So what makes a good follower?

It’s not the traditional definition of a “yes man,” a non-thinking, blindly following pushover.

The yes men around Hitler, Saddam, or Gaddafi did not do themselves nor the world any good in the end. Neither did the ones around Ken Lay or Bernie Madoff.

But a modified definition of “yes man,” one that communicates a can-do spirit in tackling any obstacle, is closer to the target.

I group ideal follower characteristics into three buckets.

1. A sense of ownership – committed; passionate; initiating; not the leader but thinks like she is

2. Humble – coachable; teachable; loyal; listening; not the leader and knows it

3. Challenging – candid; questioning; opinionated; not the leader but cares enough about the leader and the organization to revisit the status quo

Balancing these three traits is difficult. The first two usually come easier than the third.

The third will expose the true character of the leader. Will he or she take personally the challenges of a follower or use them to improve individually and organizationally?

In his famous book Good to Great, business guru Jim Collins outlines five levels of leadership. Ironically, the characteristics that lift a person to level four leadership (ambitious, driven) are often the traits that prevent him or her from getting to level five (humble, other-centered).

In the same way, being strong in the first two levels of followership may diminish one’s ability to fulfill the third.

Nevertheless, the three categories of ideal followership will make you a leading follower. They will also make you a leader worth following.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Subscribe to his columns at

Some like it subtle

Two friends from Washington, D.C., visited last weekend. How nice of FOX to air the Eagles vs. ‘Skins game locally. How familiar for the Redskins to lose to a one-win team. How ironic that a bastion of progressive ideology still cheers on what some consider a Native American slur.

Our D.C. friends keep a pulse on politics. It comes with the territory, you might say. He works for the National Institutes of Health. Her father works in the Senate.

They commented on the extent that liberal power centers are acknowledging how far President Obama is in over his head. From an executive leadership perspective. From a messaging and presidential posture perspective.

He rose to power in part because he was “nuanced.” As in recognizing the gray, not just the black and white; the exceptions, not merely the rules; the person, not just the statistic.

It didn’t hurt that he also could say, spell and define the term. Probably even use it in a sentence.

Liberals expected nuanced to be synonymous with subtle. Subtle is what they have been for years as they press their agendas through the courts, the academy, the media and entertainment.

They prefer undetected and effective. They like under the radar change, ACLU style. Obama’s hope and change mantra sounded like good vehicles for the cause.

Then the president took office and became anything but subtle. He made Hillary and Bill seem center-right. Massive deficit, stimulus spending. Rewarding auto workers over GM bondholders. Ramming through a health care plan that supposedly America needed but for some strange reason didn’t want. Explaining away American exceptionalism.

And the latest iteration of non-subtle Obama liberalism: soak the rich, those selfish sacks. Make them pay their “fair share,” that easily definable amount. The obstinacy of millionaires is costing us jobs, safe bridges, new schools.

To be fair, Mr. Obama hasn’t been completely lopsided. He did strengthen our military mission in Afghanistan. He did sign an extension of the Bush tax cuts.

But there’s plenty of buyer’s remorse among liberal elites. He’s too far out there. He can’t govern from the center. He seems Jeremiah Wright / Bill Ayers angry. Vendettas drive him, not merely the thrill of power or a desire to promote the general welfare, heaven forbid.

He’s on a grander, far less nuanced mission to reverse perceived societal injustices dating back decades. If Bill Clinton tinkered around the edges, Obama overhauls the engine block.

Therein lies the Democrats’ dilemma. Tinkerers are easier to re-elect than overhaulers. Putting a Clinton on the bottom of the ticket would help, perhaps. But not like having a Clinton at the top. Which could have happened had things gone as the elites had planned in 2008.

Instead, both a political party and a nation wrestle with how to undo the consequences of an election. How to un-demonize free enterprise. How to return family and friends to the place of caretaker of last resort. How to prioritize personal responsibility and minimize government spending.

It won’t be easy. The tide that elevated the president before will rise again, but not to the same subtle watermark.

Kevin Thompson is a weekly columnist for The Boerne Star. Subscribe to his articles at

A walk through cougar country

If you drove through the intersection of Plant and Adler Streets late last week, you may have seen the cross between a carnival and a track meet.

Friday featured the annual Curington Elementary Walk-a-thon, one of many full-forced fundraisers of Boerne ISD schools. These events are critical to school success as the Robin Hood school finance system continues to divert BISD tax dollars away from the district.

The Walk-a-thon is the best of all the school fundraisers, however, because my kids are a part of it.

Imagine tents and music and a mass of various-sized, white-shirted humanoids circling a track like a hurricane on a radar screen.

The cloud cover on this day made for ideal walking conditions. A sprinkle every hour or two kept walkers refreshed and focused on something other than the next food stop.

Kids coveted their “food cards” as more than their “lap cards,” though both hung equally around their wrists. Candy, pizza, popcorn, nachos, Cokes. All for the taking assuming you had enough punches left on your card.

Mrs. Obama sponsored a celery stand that only got business from kids who thought they were getting green Popsicles.

At least calories and rubber were both being burned on the track.

I quizzed kids on their lap counts. Five, fourteen, twenty-nine, forty-one. One kid had booked sixty-two laps with two hours to go. I later recalled his mother is a former collegiate track & field coach.

I worked the water table filling bathroom cups with Boerne Lake’s finest.

“Is the water free?” I heard many times from a generation that has never not known bottled water. I appreciated the kids’ understanding of value.

I also appreciated the variable nature of the fundraising mechanism. Students could get flat donations or per-lap sponsorships.

My oldest accepted only flat donations as he went door to door. They were a simpler sell. I’m hoping he’ll persuade next year’s sponsors on the per-lap option in order to best align his effort and his results.

The highlight of the day for a music lover who came of age two short decades ago? Classic rock and 80’s hits blaring across the school yard.

Thankfully, the dad running sound only gave limited authority to his sixth grade assistants. His handwritten sign on the music tent: “No rap; no Bieber.”

The level of parent volunteerism required to pull off these events is nearly incalculable. But nothing communicates to kids the worth of their educational pursuits like parents’ engaging at their school.

On this day, there was no one way to engage. If parents couldn’t give a half-day to the nacho stand, they could come and walk a few laps with Junior. One sweaty father told me he was getting a health insurance discount for the event.

I can think of few ways to improve the well-oiled Walk-a-thon that is eleven years in the making. Melatonin pills, perhaps, to keep my kids from awaking with anticipation at 4 am. A fruit stand, maybe.

My best idea would be a Wiffle ball homerun derby on the track’s infield baseball diamond. Instead of a free hot dog after twenty laps, we could give away cracks at the bat. The spectacle would entertain at least the baseball fans circling the track.

It is October, after all. Go Rangers. And go Curington Cougars.

Kevin Thompson is a columnist for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at

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