Leadership Lessons: Be One, Find One, Follow One

Feb. 9, 2024
Kristopher Blume tells why leaders won't achieve their greatest potential if they don't embrace three tenets: being inspirational, seeking mentors and being open to guidance.

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”—Heraclitus

Leadership. A single word that’s trotted out to proclaim or denounce an individual’s organizational credibility. It has as many intangible definitions as it has definitive platitudes.

You are affected by good leadership. You are affected by poor leadership. Leadership is measured by effects. In either case, those effects transcend the agency, person and community that the leader serves.

That said, when exposed to poor or lacking leadership, don’t shut down. Listen, learn and grow. Poor leadership should be the time that class is in session. It certainly is easy, comfortable and convenient to enjoy periods of exceptional leadership. However, the true test of one’s ability to lead and to be led occurs in the down moments of incompetent or struggling leadership teams. How we navigate through the space as a follower during trying leadership regimes defines who we are as a leader and as a member of a team.

Threefold path
In today’s multifaceted, ever-evolving world, leadership isn’t just a title but a continuous journey of growth, mentorship and learning. I purpose the mantra “Be one, find one, follow one” as a way to encapsulate a holistic approach to leadership, urging individuals to embody leadership qualities, seek mentors and be open to guidance. This three-pronged philosophy serves as a compass for aspirational leaders, ensuring that their growth is comprehensive and rooted in authentic experiences.

Be one: Embody leadership
The primary step in this leadership journey is “be one.” It calls for individuals to cultivate and embody the attributes of a good leader. True leaders possess not only the requisite skills but also the character and values that inspire others with whom they interact. By demonstrating integrity, empathy, resilience and vision, leaders set a benchmark for their teams.

“Be one” emphasizes the significance of embodying leadership in our everyday actions and decisions. Richard Boyatzis, Melvin Smith and Nancy Blaize postulate in “Developing Sustainable Leaders through Coaching and Compassion” (Academy of Management Learning & Education, March 2006) that the most effective leaders are those who not only have the requisite skills but also a character that’s anchored in values, which motivates others to follow suit. Tiffany Maldonado, Dusya Vera and William Spangler write in “Unpacking humility: Leader humility, leader personality, and why they matter” (Business Horizons, March 2022) that leaders who display empathy, resilience and vision, among other characteristics, not only lead by example but also foster a culture of mutual respect and growth.

However, being a leader isn’t merely about taking charge. It’s about being responsible, accountable and, most importantly, self-aware. Leaders recognize their strengths and are equally aware of their weaknesses. This self-awareness prompts them to continuously seek personal and professional growth. By embodying these characteristics, one not only leads by example but also creates a conducive environment for mutual respect and growth.

Find one: Mentorship
Once individuals embark on their journey to be a leader, the next phase is to “find one.” This speaks to the irreplaceable value of mentorship. Finding a mentor, someone who traveled the path before and can provide guidance, wisdom and feedback, is invaluable. The “find one” phase delves into the unparalleled role of mentorship in a leader’s journey. Michael Gottlieb and his co-authors wrote in “One Click Away: Digital Mentorship in the Modern Era” (Cureus, November 2017) that mentors act as invaluable catalysts, accelerating professional growth by providing guidance, feedback and a wealth of experience. Mentorship isn’t a one-sided relationship. It’s a symbiotic connection, where both mentors and mentees benefit, with the former refining their coaching skills and the latter gleaning from the mentors’ experiences.

Mentors don’t just instruct but are individuals who share experiences, offer insights and help mentees to navigate the complexities of their roles. The mentor-mentee relationship isn’t just about personal growth; it also aids in networking, refining skills and gaining broader perspectives. In the grand tapestry of leadership, mentors are the guiding stars, helping individuals to avoid pitfalls and to harness their full potential.

Follow one: Humility
The third tenet, “follow one,” underscores the importance of humility in leadership. No matter how accomplished that a leader becomes, there always is something to learn. Recognizing and respecting the leadership qualities of others and being open to their guidance shows a leader’s humility and eagerness to grow.

Regardless of a leader’s achievements, there is an ever-present opportunity to learn. This tenet prompts leaders to recognize and respect the leadership qualities of others, irrespective of hierarchies. This isn’t about submission, Lisa Medick Takami writes in “AASCU President Discusses Her Leadership Journey” (Student Affairs Today, March 2022), but about understanding that leadership is collaborative and can be enriched by multiple perspectives.

Following doesn’t signify submissiveness or a lack of direction. Instead, it emphasizes the understanding that leadership is a shared journey. By following others, even intermittently, leaders expose themselves to different styles, strategies and viewpoints, which enriches their own leadership palette.

A journey
The “Be One, Find One, Follow One” leadership model encapsulates the dynamic and ever-evolving journey of leadership. It prompts individuals to continuously strive for excellence, value mentorship and remain humble. In a world that sometimes misinterprets leadership as sheer dominance, this threefold approach serves as a reminder that leadership is, at its core, a journey of growth, collaboration and perpetual learning.

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