Class of 2013: Learn to Follow if you want to Lead

The title is as true for life as it is for Social Media, “great leaders come from those who learned to follow first”. Leadership is not taught in a classroom, it begins during the higher education experience and develops when you become a part of a student group, club, internship or work in student affairs. Those opportunities are what separate the educated from employable professionals. Social Media is very much the same way, if you want to be effective as a thought leader, you’ll need to be a follower, first.

Social Media is just a megaphone, think about this tool as just that, a tool. If you went to school to be a mechanic but never touched a wrench, I’d be a little concerned about letting you under the hood of my car and most companies feel the same way. The professors and text books gave you a basis for your profession and likely taught you how to learn, conduct research and if you’re lucky, write. Without question your education is valuable, if for no other reason than you finished something you started, a rarity these days.

Seth Godin often explains “those that are genuine will survive the test of time while others fade away”. I use this statement to justify the position that if you’re expecting to become a leader overnight, you are sorely mistaken.

Learning is a lifelong process, your degree qualifies you as someone who can learn and should do so faster than those that lack your credentials. When it comes to Digital and Social Media having a degree, a Galaxy S4 and a Facebook account does not qualify you to lead in the real world.

Content is King, but it’s so much more than that, content is the business of business. While you might be more savvy with a Smartphone and even possibly more connected on Social Media, it’s likely you know very little about the people in the industry your entering into, or the story behind the business. The people in an industry is what makes everything possible and the story of that business is what garnishes returns in digital and social media.

Today’s leading digital thought leaders and executives started in entry level positions, had little money in their pocket and made just enough money to stay home when they got two (2) weeks off a year. Startups take place in basements, most fail and those that grow will tell you stories about poverty during the YEARS it took them to grow.

You love Apple? Steve Jobs is an iconic example, did you know that Bill Gates saved Apple? “We were 90 days from going bankrupt” Steve Jobs explained at the All Things Digital Conference. There is a lot made out of PC vs Mac, and Jobs vs. Gates, but these two men knew when to be humble and their role to play, both as leaders and followers.

As you enter into the workforce learn to be follower, understand who came before you. Don’t just focus on what you can do better, but how they can make you better. In Social Media you NEED to understand what is written, discussed and executed. It’s not just about Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as Social Media predates most of today’s companies. Social Media is about people, in your profession you’ll be new to that.  Learn how to be part of the audience and you’ll know how to develop your own.