One of my favorite books growing up, and now one of my daughter’s favorite books, is Yurtle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss. The story is of an arrogant turtle king who marvels at how wonderful he is and proclaims that he is the ruler of all that he can see. But things grow stale and Yurtle yearns to rule over more. He orders his turtle subjects to stand on one another’s backs to form a higher throne for him, allowing him to see and rule more. Throughout the story he keeps forcing more and more turtles to add to his throne so that he gets higher and higher. The entire time a single turtle, Mack on the bottom of the stack, keeps complaining that the turtles are all in pain because of Yurtle’s greed. Yurtle repeatedly silences Mack until Mack decides he’s had enough and decides to topple the throne, causing Yurtle to fall into the pond below. The story ends with Yurtle being king of the mud, “because that’s all he can see”.
As a child I vividly remembering this story being a life lesson in not allowing people to boss you around and walk all over you. The message I learned was that people should stand up for themselves and not allow their rights to be violated, no matter who is violating them. As an adult I still see this message but I also see the other side of the equation, especially as it relates to leadership.
As a leader you must keep in mind that people don’t have to follow you for any reason – even in business environments. As with Yurtle’s situation, the lowest person on the team can ultimately bring down the entire structure. Just because someone reports to you on the corporate structure doesn’t mean that they have to follow you. They can undermine your authority, complain to your superiors or HR, or even leave your team or the company. The relationship between leader and follower is a voluntary one. Always. The only benefit that corporate leaders are given is that they have a mandated reporting structure, allowing them more time to sway their potential followers whereas in non corporate situations the potential followers can leave much quicker if not immediately satiated.
As a leader it is natural to strive for personal and professional growth. However, if that growth comes at the sake of your followers it is just a matter of time before you are in for a tumultuous fall and find yourself being king of the mud.