Getting the right balance between inspiring others to do more than they think they can do and enabling them to do it is an art. If you don’t go far enough, fast enough your followers will lose interest. If you try to go too far too fast, your followers won’t be able to keep up.

In the children’s game, “follow the leader” the pack follows the leader up down over under and around. The leader is not the strongest or the fastest. He or she is the one taking them to fun places in fun ways at that moment. When he or she is done, leadership passes to another – still not the strongest or the fastest because the strongest or the fastest would be the hardest to follow and the least fun.

As part of Coca-Cola Japan’s leadership team, we prided ourselves on reading and reacting to market changes. Each month we’d look at our business and make appropriate adjustments to our plans.

One month I was out in the field with one of our driver/salesmen. When I looked at his sales book I noticed he was selling things we’d put out in the field six months earlier – three iterations back!

Our leadership was talking to ourselves. Our plan adjustments never made it through the system to our front line sales people. We were moving too fast for the rest of the kids to follow us.

Getting The Balance Right

Think through the five brave leadership questions.

1. Where to play?

2. What matters and why?

3. How to win?

4. How to connect?

5. What impact?

Where to play is about context. Make sure you’re choosing a playing field that will work for your followers. If it won’t, think about delaying your start until you’ve strengthened your team.

What matters and way is about values and purpose. Make sure you’re all aligned around this before proceeding.

How to win involves making an honest assessment of your followers’ strengths and gaps. This will guide how fast you can move to challenge your followers without losing them.

How to connect and how to stay connected to your followers involved checking in with them periodically to make sure they are keeping up. It’s generally easier for you to slow down than for them to speed up.

This is especially important with virtual teams. Since virtual communication is less productive and satisfying than live communication, you’ll likely need to check in more frequently with a virtual team than with a team on which all the players are housed together. (Communication’s impact is a function of the strength of the message, the medium/environment and duration and frequency of communication.)

What impact needs to be applied to all those involved from customers to allies to your followers. Think through the consequences of what you do – both direct and intended and indirect and unintended.

Followable Onboarding

These ideas are generally applicable and specifically applicable to executive onboarding into new roles. In those situations you have to converge into the organization before you try to evolve it. Assimilating in is the path of least resistance – and the approach with the least impact. Come in with changes too fast and the other kids won’t follow you. Invest the time and energy to get your timing right for the situation you’re facing.

The basics of get a head start, manage the message and build the team apply.

• Get a head start

Before your first day, learn about and think through your initial hypotheses around where to play, what matters and why and how to win. This will help you craft your message.

• Manage the message

Own the balance between inspiring others to do more than they think they can do and enabling them to do it. Let that balance and timing flow through to your message.

• Build the team

Then follow through to keep the other kids challenged and together. Followable leaders always have one eye on their followers.