You’re only a leader as long as people follow

When I started my full-time career in IT (coop work terms excluded), I started as the CEO of my own company and was very successful for a few years. By doing so, you skip over all of the things you should learn about being a leader and simply take the role. In my third year running my own business, I was dealing on a daily basis with other CEO’s. Most of whom had spent decades achieving their success and were suspicious of the kid with fancy computers and software. I had hired a small staff of talented people and assumed that the title of CEO implied that I was leading.  I was wrong. I remember handing my father, my new business card with the updated Company logo and my name and title embossed into the surface. He took the card from me and handed it back. He said “Nice Title, but you’re only a leader as long as people follow. Is anybody following you?” They were not actually. Not because they didn’t want to, it was just that I wasn’t leading them anywhere.  It would turn out to be one of the important lessons of my life, to acknowledge that leadership is all about getting people to follow.

More than a decade later I was running a $100 million+ project for one the largest banks in the US. My team was over 200 and the client added another 250 people. We were costing our client almost a million dollars a week for the project. By this time , I had dramatically improved my leadership skills and was ready for a challenge of this magnitude. There are two learnings I believe that are worth sharing to future leaders of mega-projects:

1) Don’t just encourage teamwork, be a team leader. Define it, communicate it and then show it.

Teamwork – A manner of working in which people at all levels, share in the planning, directing as well as the execution of the work. In team activities, more ideas and better ideas, through the stimulus of personal interchange, come into consideration. The involvement of all team members in the decision making strengthens their commitment in execution also. Effective team work requires cooperation and thrives in a climate of freedom, openness and mutual trust, which results from careful self-discipline of expressed attitude towards others by each individual. Such a climate expands the contributions being made by everyone, which is advantageous for the project and satisfying for the individual.

2) Recognize and reward often

In this project I created the PETER award. Planning, Enthusiasm, Teamwork, Execution and Review.  The reward, a stuffed white rabbit that I bought for $10 in a gift store.


Every week the team nominated a worthy recipient and every week the project stopped, all 450 of us and headed for the cafeteria. (from two buildings).  The presentation was made and the PETER award could spend the next week in the cubicle of the deserving team member. It became a highlight of the entire week,

Peter would also show up in person,  to sit down with team members in their office, thank them for the hard work and encourage them. And PETER was….


The guy who had learned how to get people to follow him.

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2 Responses to You’re only a leader as long as people follow

  1. Pingback: Keep your sense of humour… | Infinite Shades of Grey

  2. Pingback: Infinite Shades of Grey – A year later and a little greyer | Infinite Shades of Grey

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