Lead, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way

By Jeff Earlywine


This article is going to be very basic in its approach, even leaning on the silly side. However, the concepts revealed should be taken seriously because of their proven effectiveness in helping you lead your organization.


There is a children’s nursery rhyme that goes like this: “Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub, and how do you think they got there? The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, they all jumped out of a rotten potato, ‘twas enough to make a man stare.” First, showing my ignorance, this rhyme must have meant something to those three men (and those staring) but to me it means very little. It hardly even rhymes, and what does taking a bath have to do with rotten potatoes?


Second, what a sight that must have been. Just picture in your mind three grown men sitting in an old-fashioned bathtub wearing only what they were born in. There they sit – one of the men holding a bar of soap, another holding a back brush, and the other holding a bottle of shampoo. This is one word picture you might not want to explain to your children.


However, there is a great leadership principle contained in this story. The way I see it, one of the men had to be the leader. He was the one that cast the bathtub experience vision in the first place. The second man was the follower; he is content to follow anyone with a convincing plan. The third man was simply in the way. During the bathtub experience, he was the one getting yelled at, “Hey, got off my foot.” Or, “Hey, move over you are invading my personal space.”


Okay, enough with the analogy and into practicality. In your organization, there are leaders, followers, and those just getting in the way. I bet you can put several names of people in your organization with each one of those categories.


Below is just a brief description of each of these people.


Leaders – By definition leaders lead. They do this by…


  • — Self-development – leaders continually strive to learn and grow.
  • — Vision development – leaders see before followers see, see farther than followers see, and see what followers don’t see.
  • — People development – people are like rubber bands. Which means they are virtually useless unless they are stretched. But stretched too far, too fast, will result in a breakdown. Leaders strategically stretch their people.
  • — Plan development – successful leaders have a goal, and a plan to achieve that goal.


Followers – Again by definition, followers follow. They do this by…


  • — Anticipating – staying at least one step ahead of the leader. I saw a good example of this when I was on the Injoy Group team several years ago. Dr. John C. Maxwell was ready to step onto the stage to deliver his well-polished leadership lesson when several of his staff handed him a pack of his favorite mints. It was almost like it was planned, but they were only anticipating what John would need next.
  • — Cover for the loose ends – this is a twin sister to anticipating. A good follower anticipates the next steps but also looks for loose ends that the leader has left undone.
  • — Closing doors – many times a leader will have a great idea that he/she feels will take the organization to a new level. After delivering the idea to key staff he/she will hand the project off to a key follower for the completion of all the details.


Those that get in the way – people in this category need to seriously consider the following steps to help find their passion, potential and position in life. These steps will not only help them but will help the entire organization as well.


  • — Get out of the way by learning – this will increase value to the organization.
  • — Get out of the way by moving – by moving to a different department or duties the follower’s potential and productivity can be achieved.
  • — Get out of the way by exiting – bowing out and moving on is nothing to be ashamed of. It could be that a person getting in the way is not just out of their comfort zone but also out of their gift zone. Being out of a comfort zone allows personal growth, but being out of the gift zone aides to frustration and a lack of productivity.




Jeff Earlywine is a business consultant, corporate trainer and international speaker. He has worked with 300 different organizations over 30 years. His driving, disciplined approach to raising standards of excellence has earned him the nickname “The Bar Raiser!”

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