There is a species of army ant, Labidus praedator, that is completely blind. They find their way by using receptors to follow a chemical trail left from the ant in front of them. Each ant leaves this trail so the ant behind them can find their way. It is quite an efficient way to collectively overcome what could be easily viewed as a serious handicap to survival. There is, however, one flaw in this.
When the ants are going in a relatively straight line between a food source and their colony, this works well. Occasionally, an ant veers off course and begins to walk in a circle as it looks for food or the chemical trail. Eventually it finds this trail because it was followed by the blind ants behind it. The result is a massive circling by hundred, even thousands, of ants. They continue this behavior out of mere habit and instinct and keep going until they literally starve to death.
Why such a cheery blog post? To show the destructive nature of a blind leader that takes things off course. Just like the ants, the leaders are going full tilt to accomplish their “task”, but they’re going nowhere…and fast. The ants are following something familiar simply because it’s familiar. No thought is put into why they are walking in circles. The parallels between these ants and we humans are frightening.
There are people who will follow a leader, no many how many circles they make. Perhaps these people aren’t even aware of it. As leaders, we have the responsibility to make sure we’re not following someone else’s trail. We need to blaze our own trail. It’s not about being a rogue leader. It’s about being an innovative leader that guides according to passion and vision instead of the familiar and habitual.
If we, as leaders, blindly follow the trail of someone else we are dooming our followers to certain death. They won’t physically die (hopefully), but they will die professionally, and somewhat emotionally. There is no real sense of accomplishment and work is nothing more than trading time for money. The moment their time becomes more valuable elsewhere, they will go.
Lead people somewhere exciting and nourishing and they will always follow you. They are contributing to a greater good and each one of them has value to the overall well-being of something larger than themselves. This is such an intrinsic part of our humanity, so why not include it in where we spend the majority of our time? Work.
Leading is more than getting a task done well. It is understanding the context in which the work is done and the impact it has on those doing the work. 21st century leadership/business will accept nothing less. This has become the expectation and will be the norm that moves companies and teams forward over the next foreseeable future. Ditch the death spirals and blaze your own trail!