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How do we do this fast-paced dance without stepping on each other’s toes?

Updated: Feb 13

The InterchangeableDance of Leader & Follower

by Maureen K. McCarthy and Zelle Nelson Co-Founders, The Center for Collaborative Awareness

Traditional rules of hierarchy are blurring everywhere. We’re experiencing the unstructured dance of 5, 10 and 10,000 people with no clear way forward. Who’s the boss when you’re online at two o’clock in the morning clicking from website to website? Or a natural disaster wipes out your community’s water supply? There are no clear ground rules, no true arbiters of style, overseers of cultural norms, or definitive chain of command.

In this new world, where “the way it’s always been” is often thrown out the window, what would happen if the two of us got up to dance? If the rule of “man leads, woman follows” doesn’t exist, how do you avoid pushing and pulling each other across the floor in frustration, ultimately leading one of us to say, “I’ve had enough?”

To make it work, we need to step back and ask ourselves, “What dances do I know? When should I lead and when should I follow?” Then we need to exchange that information, ask clarifying questions, and custom design the way we’ll work together. This ever-changing dance of leader and follower can be effortless, as long as we know ourselves and one another, and pay close attention to what does and doesn’t work to continually course correct.


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