Not long ago when I was in Dallas, Texas, I was with some friends and we needed to go to the local post office to retrieve a package. We had received a notice of an attempt to deliver a package but we had not been home. My friends and I were having a difficult time locating the specific post office that had the package, even though we were using a GPS device. We were thoroughly lost! All of a sudden I looked up and saw a postman delivering mail from his small truck. I told my friends, “Today is our lucky day!” When we pulled alongside the postman, we showed him our orange notification slip and asked if he could direct us to the location of that specific post office to pick up our package. He simply said, “Follow me!” He jumped back into his truck and drove away with us following close behind. Within a matter of a few minutes, we were at the post office. We had not been far away from our destination at all.
I must admit that I was surprised when the postman was willing to stop what he was doing and personally lead us to the post office. When we arrived, he explained, “We were only a few blocks away, so I thought the easiest thing for me to do would be to bring you here myself and show you exactly how to get here. I know all of the back roads and this is the shortest route.”
Not only had he personally driven us to our location, but he led us right through the gate to the area reserved for postal trucks. He came over to our vehicle and told us that since it was Saturday, the post office had closed at noon, but if we would give him the little orange slip stating that we had a package waiting, he would be happy to go retrieve it for us. We gladly complied and he entered the post office through the rear door. Within a few minutes he returned, bringing our package with him. Talk about service!
We thanked him for being so gracious and spent a few minutes talking with him about his service as a postman. He explained that he had met so many wonderful people over the years. It was evident that he loved his job and that he was very good at it. We thanked him again and asked for his name and address. I told him that I was an author and would like to send him one of my books as a token of our appreciation for his help.
That incident raised an important issue in my mind; one that directly relates to the topic of leadership. Why were we so willing to follow this particular gentleman? We followed because he held the position of a postman. He wore the uniform; he had knowledge and experience; and most of all, he had the confidence to get us to our final destination. It did not require a lot of convincing on his part to persuade us to follow him. His simple words, “Follow me!” were all it took. Technically we were not following him as an individual, but rather because he was a postman. We were following his position.
After spending several minutes in conversation with him and learning a little more about him, something else regarding leadership occurred. His leadership with us changed. We moved away from being willing to follow his position to then wanting to follow him as a person. And, that is the best type of leader – one that you love, trust and want to follow, because you know them as a person, not just by their position. I think this is a very important distinction. Maybe another simple illustration will help to further develop this point.
If a police officer pulls you over for a driving violation and has a bad attitude or is verbally abusive to you that does not negate his position as a police officer. You cannot say, “Well, officer, I don’t think I deserve a ticket because you have a bad attitude!” That will only get you into more trouble! It is important to understand the distinction between the person and the position they may hold. We may not like an individual or the way they lead, but that has little or nothing to do with their position of authority.
Think about the difference between the position and the person in almost any situation and you will see the clarity and importance of the difference. We have a position as a parent and our children should follow us, but it is much better if we act like a loving person who cares about them. Politicians have a very important leadership position in governing the affairs of our country, but we are more likely to support them if we can relate to them personally and are able to trust their ability to govern correctly. Medical personnel have an important position in medicine that they have earned by years spent in studying medicine. However, most of us would prefer that our physician or dentist demonstrate that they care about us personally so we can trust their position of leadership.
An employer has the position of being in charge, but if they lead with a heavy hand just because they are in charge, it will discourage people and they will not want to follow. In many cases, employees simply have to follow that kind of leader, but that is not a healthy situation in which anyone should find themselves. Unfortunately, it happens in leadership every day! (Commanding other people works well in the military, but not in everyday business or family life.) It would be far better for an employer to develop relationships with the employees so they are willing to follow the leader as a person, not just because of position.
This week think about the distinction between position and person. What about you? Are you the kind of person who can say, “Follow me,” and people will easily follow because they know you to be worthy of their trust? If so, it says a lot about the kind of person you really are. I want my “person-hood” to trump my “position-hood” every time. I believe you do, too!
Tip: Follow me!
Have a great week! God bless you!
Dr. Robert A. Rohm