This is adapted from a post by Sundara Blair from her blog The Rise of Eve.
One time when I was in a training, we did an exercise designed to explore power dynamics in relationships. It didn’t go all that well for me.
We were instructed to pair up and stand across from each other. One person was asked to do a repetitive movement and the other was supposed to follow and mirror them as they did their movement and made small changes to it along the way.
Then we switched. I loved being the leader and having someone follow me! But I so didn’t love following.
To me, following was exhausting and vulnerable and I got resentful, felt disempowered, and had a hard time keeping up. I’ve always been told I’m a natural leader, but no one ever told me I was a shitty follower.
I was. Which…isn’t ideal and yes, showed up in my relationships in not-so-pleasant ways. If you want a healthy relationship,
You’ve got to know how to lead and follow. Both. You’re a team.
In a partnership, you share power. Sometimes you’re leading, and sometimes you’re following their lead.
When both partners are able to comfortably lead and follow, it supports The Zone of Play, the state that is key to healthy, happy, long-lasting relationships.
And when both partners don’t know how to do this, well, then you’ve got a power imbalance and the relationship suffers.
See the value of learning how to do both well?
How To Be A Good Leader
Suggest plans. Share ideas. Follow your desire. Make claims. Take risks. Invite.
Pay attention to who you’re leading and take them into consideration. Do you think they could say yes to what you’re suggesting? Would they want to? If you suggest a hike, is it an appropriate level for them? If you want to make love, how might you invite or entice them, based on what you know about what they like? Make it easy for them to say yes to you but don’t resist leadership because of a fear that they won’t.
Remember that there’s power in both leading and following, so good leadership means power with, not power over.
Make room for pushback or resistance. If you take the lead and your partner isn’t interested in following right then, don’t force it, or else you find yourself exerting power over and you’ll start to lose their trust. Instead, get curious and ask some questions about what’s up for them.
Be flexible. The dance between leading and following shifts organically. Stay open and ready to shift into following at any moment when your partner starts to take the lead.
How To Be A Good Follower
Say “yes.” Be receptive. Agree. Following their lead at the right times is supportive to both of you, because it promotes mutual empowerment, connection, and it gives you a break from having to lead all the time!
Stay in your empowerment. Following isn’t blind acceptance or compliance. It’s actively choosing to be open to their ideas, trust their lead, support their leadership, and let yourself relax under their care.
To be a good follower, you’ve got to be willing to trust leadership that’s different than the way you’d do it. Your partner isn’t going lead like you would, or even lead perfectly all the time.
Remember that there’s power in both leading and following, so good following means power with (because you’re choosing to let them lead), not relinquishment of your power. You can still say “no” or “yes, but” when necessary, but if this is all you ever respond with, it’s not really following.
Finally, yep, be flexible. At any moment, the opportunity could come for you to step up into leadership, so be ready and willing.
There are subtle cues and ways we invite our partners into either leadership or following all the time, so look for those and take them when appropriate. Again, this facilitates the two of you staying in the flow together.
Also, remember that it takes generosity to be both a good leader and a good follower, so you can appreciate yourself and your partner for both roles.
Try it! Check in with yourself about how it’s going.