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Who Do We Choose to Follow?

Think about your career and the managers, and potentially leaders, that you’ve had in your life. Think about life in general and who do you admire, who have you modeled yourself after or who you wanted to follow in sports, in a hobby, in life, etc.

I’ve heard about, read about or seen many people on TV, in newspapers, books, and more. Some of them I admire, most I don’t, but as I learn more about some of them, there are always some I like that I start to question whether they’re good leaders. To be fair, someone can be a good leader in public, or in some roles and have a mess of a personal life. They’re not necessarily related.

I started thinking about this after reading a post on herds. No, I still don’t like horses, but it’s my wife’s blog and I follow it just to see what she’s doing. I’m interested in her, not the horses and it helps me to better keep in touch with her.

Everyone needs someone to follow. We have to decide who inspires or motivates us, but do you know why any particular person does so? As I read about horses, I’m not sure that we’re much different. We feel drawn to one person or another, or some group, and we don’t always know why.

The Voice of the DBA

Steve Jones is the editor of SQLServerCentral.com and visits a wide variety of data related topics in his daily editorial. Steve has spent years working as a DBA and general purpose Windows administrator, primarily working with SQL Server since it was ported from Sybase in 1990. You can follow Steve on Twitter at twitter.com/way0utwest


Posted by Andy Warren on 29 January 2009

I think this is a struggle even down to the level of finding a mentor; just not easy and it is about chemistry as much as fact. Lots of examples of people I find interesting that aren't models of perfection at home, and rather than discouraging me, reminds me to seek balance. The closest I come currently to following someone is Warren Buffett, I admire his approach to doing what he knows and not following the herd - easier to say than do!

Posted by Sam Evans on 6 February 2009

A puzzling thing all told. To be honest, it's never occurred to me to 'follow' anyone, and I've never been inspired by any living person. I certainly admire some people and similarly despise some, but 'follow'. Not under any circumstances.

Posted by andy.karsky on 6 February 2009

Yes, everyone follows someone (or something).  It is better to be aware of this so we can try to follow the right people, rather than just following those who speak the most persuasively.

In business, I think finding a mentor who knows how to balance their area of expertise with other areas in their life is more wholistically beneficial.  While this is not always possible, I believe it is desirable.

Posted by michael_davis2 on 6 February 2009

I agree with andy...whether we know it or not, we all follow someone (that can be seen at a large level by us generally following the culture/society we live in).  i think as one moves through life...both professional and personal...they should always be viewing the world around them and assessing how different individuals handle a similar situation.  i think by doing that, we can really pick and choose our role models on a by-subject method.

Posted by Lee Bacon on 6 February 2009

Follow or admire are two seperate things.  I have followed a number of people that I did not admire.  They were simply my boss.  I admire some people but I would not follow them.  An example would be Mother Theresa and her charity work with the poor.  When she was alive, we were half a world apart and I would not have "followed" her even if I had been nearby.  That was not the life for me.  This does not keep me from admiring her commitment and respecting her work.

Posted by roger.plowman on 6 February 2009

I find myself in total agreement with Sam Evans. Nothing more to say. :)

Posted by Bill Nicolich on 6 February 2009

Life forces us all to one extent or another to be psychologists, economists, technologists, poets, dancers, etc.

Consider this quote by John Maynard Keynes: "ideas of economists and political philosophers, whether right or wrong, are more powerful than is commonly under-stood. In reality, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men (and women), who believe themselves quite untouched by any such intellectual influence, are usually slaves of some dead economist."

Few consider the etymology (roots and history) of many important ideas that comprise the abstractions they make about the world.

People talk about how they "just needed to vent" something. That's Sigmund Freud, an influential dead guy talking. In his time, hydraulic machines were invented, and he seized the metaphor and applied it to mental life. Now I hear "hydraulic" talk all the time. It's imbedded in our culture now with little regard for the conversations that have taken place since then.

Same goes for ideas like "invisible hand," "self esteem," "patriarchy," "introvert and extrovert," "pecking order," "mid-life crisis" and the list goes on.

I'm with Steve in that it's a good use of time to occasionally take inventory, especially if one aspires to offer thought leadership or mentorship to other people.

Posted by metawizard2 on 6 February 2009

I think a lot of it has to do with what our self image is.  If I think back over my life, I've chased after the groups that fit who I wanted to be and what I thought I was.  Sometimes it was an active thing ( joining a club, dressing a certain way, trying to become friends with someone ) and sometimes it was a passive thing ( choosing one option without realizing until later why, circumstance ( kids in school, hang out with PTA folks ), and let's not forget Luck and Karma ).

So the old maxim "Know Yourself" is all so true; I think animals in a herd have a much stronger sense of pecking order ( stuck in my head ) because the rules are a lot more clear cut.  We have the ability to move from one herd to another so many times within a day that sometimes you need  a scorecard to keep up.  But if you know who you are and what you want, it becomes easier to pick which herds you want to chase and which ones you are just passing through the back of.

Posted by JP Sabin on 6 February 2009

For me there are aspects of individuals that I try to emulate......people who are innovative, people who made themselves more than once, people who get back up and keep going.  I have never found one person who I'd follow in all parts of my life.

I greatly admired my Dad.  He was a brilliant man, ethical, determined.  But it became obvious to me as I grew older that I was not like him in some ways.  I am much more competetive, for example.  I think that's how it works.  We can never lose sight of who we are. When I lost my Dad I still had much to hold on to because, while like him in many ways, at the end of the day I am still my own person.  Dad would say it is all about balance.

Posted by MagneticDave on 6 February 2009

This is very useful to investigate.  I have often noticed that people tend to become like the people they associate.  In my effort to be more proactive with my life, I am deciding who I want to be, and then I can let that determine who I accept as a Leader, or befriend.  I'm not talking about a Machiavellian "what's in it for me" attitude.  However, I am discovering that certain relationships actually sidetrack me from who I am trying to be, or that they are just downright unhealthy.  

Ultimately this is part of asking myself: "Am I going to live by default, or am I going to live by choice.  If I am going to live by choice, what am I going to choose?"

Posted by Alan Vogan on 6 February 2009

Hey Steve, nice thought.

Words often mess up what

We're trying to say but

I'll give it a shot.

I am in agreement with Sam in the sense that I don't think of myself as a follower. However, since we are using the word "follow: to travel behind, to travel along a certain course, 'follow the road'" I would agree with Bill. It would be naive to think I wasn't traveling paths that have already been blazed before me, whether they be highways or deer trails. Some I will choose, knowing who has gone before me, some I will take not knowing but as a result of my own experiences. If I'm lucky, I may even create a few of my own.

So, as Steve asks,who inspires and motivates us in our lives? Who has blazed the trails before us, behind us?

For me, it is also my wife, who is a woodworker. What she does amazes and inspires me. She is currently apprenticing here http://www.kenfrye.com/ . It's her artistic eye, attention to detail, her passion. It's quite incredible and I try to 'follow that road' in the things that I do.

There are others that have made paths that I think are worthy of following. So maybe we choose bits and pieces from everyone we meet to make our own path. I think I know why I choose these people in my life to try and create my own path, but the words elude me.

Anybody surf? It's like that, you have to be there, in the moment. You know why at that exact moment, you catch the wave, and then it passes. You forget exactly why, but you paddle out and catch the next one because you know you'll know the answer again right at that moment.

2 cents

Posted by sing4you on 6 February 2009

I "follow" a lot of people because I'm involved with a lot of activities.  Professionally, I am fortunate to be working with a project manager who really knows what she's doing.  I'm pleased to finally have someone I can emulate in this arena.

I'm a musician so I'm always looking to the performers and songwriters around me from whom I can gain inspiration and ideas.

Same thing with T'ai Chi.  I look to my teacher and the other masters he brings to our school for knowledge and inspiration.

I feel bad for people who have never been inspired by others.  Inspiration from without is what has gotten me out of my own head and limitations (I hope:-)

I don't like horses either.  I have tried to learn to ride more than once in my life.  They're just plain ornery.

Posted by Steve Jones on 18 February 2009

Wow, Alan, very cool. Send me a picture when your wife builds something amazing.

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