Following and leading in relationships can be important concepts to understand and apply because they have a large bearing on self-esteem and the building or diminishing trust over time. While these principles apply to all relationships, let’s start by focussing on parent child relationships.

Parenting sometimes feels like a difficult and thankless task. Other times it can be one of the most liberating and beautiful experiences on the planet. We want to teach our kids so much, but do they want to learn. Do they want to listen. Does the phrase “I forgot” seem to be a central place in your child’s vocabulary, when it comes to things you have asked or told them to do. There may be a different way you can approach your teaching of your child that is not so frustrating.

Also the ideas in this article also are about building your child’s self esteem.

This isn’t only about parenting, but also how we might talk between adults. Often we take a parental role with others around us, especially in areas of our expertise where we share our expertise freely without being asked.

The hidden power of following and leading in relationships

Very few human beings like being told what to do, what they are think, what they feel, or even worse what to think or what to feel.

Each time we are “told”, we sometimes want to dig in, argue, or even just ignore.

Each time we are “told”, our self esteem take a little hit, as it means to us we are being judged. That how we are is not OK. That we need to do something a little different.

And, hey, lets face it sometime we do need direction, correction, affirmation, being critiqued.

The ideas of following and leading have been around a long long time.

Defining following and leading in relationships

Following is where we name what we see, we make no judgement on what we see, just name it with an openness to what that means.

Following is the start of healthy communication. Rather than saying “you did this” or “you made me….”,. You can follow yourself and say “I feel sad”. You can follow others by saying “I notice you seem to be a little tense” and leave it open for them to answer that they are not. They you can open up a dialogue about where they are at.

The processes for healthy communication are the content of a later blog.

Other ways of following are just to name what you see someone doing “I notice you are playing on the computer” I notice you are eating an ice cream. A very simple starting place is to start with the simple. Just following simple actions.

Leading in relationships is where we direct, or what we think something is, or the intent behind something, or where we might judge whether something is good or bad, right or wrong.

There are times when it is good to lead. For example. Our child who may have tunnel vision is stepping out off the footpath into oncoming traffic. Very good time to take control and lead.

The general rules of leading in relationships

I think the general rules for leading are:

  1.  when someone is in danger or needs to be kept safe
  2. when you have been asked for guidance or your judgement or opinion
  3. when there is a necessary skill that needs to be picked up quickly by someone that would make life easier for all.

We tend to use this third one more than might be useful.

If you remember the life lessons you learnt, most of what you learnt was by example, not by what you were told in a vacuum.

An example might be, if you want you child to learn how to play in ways other than on a screen, play with them, or play in front of them. Think of reducing your own screen time. (I say this while typing on a screen in front of the family).

The general rule of following in relationships

The general rule for following is do it most of the time.

A couple of great examples of following and leading are in the following two videos.

We start with the leading video where we see simple instructions given in the making of pancakes.

We note our Principal Occupational Therapist Johanna de Kort leading a toddler in an activity they were interested in.

We now see an example of our Principal Occupational Therapist following a toddler in a play activity.

My favourite example for where following might be more useful than leading is the train play.

As a dad, I want to help my son create the train track he really wants, not the one he is creating. I believe he really wants to make the figure of 8 from the front of the box, and not the train track he is creating.  Sadly I could be wrong.

Leading would be

When he is heading off to the wall and about to make the track lead in a direction where the train would surely crash

“Why don’t you put the track the other way?”

This says to him;

I’m watching you. You are important to me. what you are doing I don’t entirely think is right, so try it my way.

Although he may enjoy you being with him, there is judgement and not necessarily affirmation, and his esteem may take a little hit.

Following would be

“You are laying the track to the right”

This says to him;

I am watching you, you are important to me, I am with you in what you are doing.

This tends to affirm that you like being with him, just as he is, and gives a little positive nudge to his self esteem.

Applying the 80:20 rule in following and leading in relationships

So much of our lives is about telling people, certainly for our kids who are led all day at school, and come home only to be led more.

My thought is that it is good to lead about 20% of the time and follow 80%. And if you want people to learn, then lead by example.

A good “follower” might also be called a good “listener.”

Help is Around

Have a go – see if applying following and leading in relationships works for you. And remember, if you are struggling then help is around.

If you want to explore this idea of Following and Leading, and improve some of your skills as a follower or leader for that matter, feel free to contact us. We have Therapists who can work across the age range to assist any member of your family.

Make an appointment with one of our Practitioners

Give us a call on +61 8 8351 6664 to make an appointment, ask questions, or discuss your needs further so we can understand how we can help you better.