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Scott Peltin

When I was in the fire service, I remember taking a leadership class from a fire chief who emphasized the importance of followership. At first I thought I was in the wrong course since I was clearly on the path to promotion and wanted to learn how to become an effective leader. His point was that within every organization at every level, even the leader must follow someone. But the key thing is - who wants to follow a leader who is a terrible role model for being able to follow her/his own leader with humility, intelligence, strategic thinking, and a high performance mindset? As I reflect on every leader I have coached, being effective has required mastering the dance between leading and following (even within the teams where they were the actual leader).

Recently, we published a blog on the importance of negative emotions. We received a lot of great comments and personal examples on how powerful and useful this approach was, but another theme kept popping up. Essentially the theme was, “Dealing with my own negative emotions is challenging but manageable (with practice of course), but how do I deal with the constant bombardment of negativity from leaders within our company?” How do I deal with the constant comments such as, “You think it’s bad now, wait until next quarter;” or “This is going to be our toughest year ever, so get ready for some wild times;” and my favorite, “I hope you got your nap this weekend because we need to sprint like never before and there won’t be any time for resting.”

In writing our many responses to these comments/questions, we realized that there were some key lessons for both leaders and followers (many times the same person at different times) that may be useful. So, we decided to share them in this week’s blog.

.01 Being real is better than just being positive, but there has to be a balance. In the Tignum way of thinking, it isn’t a magical ratio that some others have proposed but rather that a negative emotion must then be linked to a positive action. The key is action. A high performance mindset is about solutions. Therefore a statement like, “You think it’s bad now, just wait until later,” must be followed by, “And therefore we need to do………..” In other words, just providing a perspective of how bad you are sinking isn’t helpful. In real terms, it doesn’t matter if you are drowning in an inch of water or 100 feet of water - if you can’t breathe, the outcome is the same.

.02 Leaders who think out loud underestimate how dangerous this is. They may actually be thinking some of these thoughts, but they need to filter them and provide the comfort of a solution. When I was a fire captain or fire chief, I couldn’t just say, “Holy shit, this fire is enormous.” I may have thought that, but what I needed to do was calmly make my assessment, direct my crews, and appear to be untouched by the size of the fire. Still, I may share the danger of the fire with everyone so they knew that I knew it was deadly, but I would essentially be saying, “So, let’s take really great care of ourselves so nobody gets hurt here.” Great leaders understand that what they say is magnified 4 times, and, therefore, has a huge ripple effect. This can be crippling or empowering, so learn to master it.

.03 In the end, we all must take responsibility for ourselves, even in the worst of situations. When a leader says that things will only get worse, we must all take responsibility for ourselves and ask, “How will I manage this?” We must push back and ask our leaders, “Why do you think that is true?” and, “What then should we do to be successful in this new highly volatile situation?” In other words, we can’t let others destroy our resilience or our hope. In the end, sometimes we even need to make arrangements for a new place to work because this may not be the best environment for us, but this is us taking responsibility for ourselves.

I guess my fire chief was right; being a great leader and follower have a lot in common. They both require Sustainable High Performance, a high level of awareness, and a high performance mindset. As always, I’d love to hear what you think.

By Scott Peltin