During my time in Hong Kong I’ve subtly learnt about leadership by means of a strange method: walking…

As I’ve wandered many a street with my family, a pack of 5 people, different people have led, or directed where we were going, and the different styles have made me realise that they are a style of leadership, and that I can learn from them.

Now the streets of Hong Kong can get extremely extremely busy, so it’s not an easy place to walk, especially with a group of people. The main two people that have led our family have of course been mum and dad.

Now as mum has led us, she’s been a bit all over the place, actually, even when not leading she’s all over the place. Whilst she did get us to the places we were going, most of the time, it was difficult and frustrating, there was lack of communication, and lack of preparation. We would be very stuttered in our travels as she paused to check where we were going, or to think out loud, or to change her mind. I think I learnt more of what not to do from her style of leadership. The worst thing that my mum did was to not continue in a straight path, but to drift in all directions, especially into oncoming pedestrians.

When my dad stepped up to lead us, he was a better, probably because he is more of a leader, being experienced, a male, and a father. He would move purposefully, but all the while he would look back to make sure that we would be following. He would also clarify where we were headed before we started to go somewhere.

Now as a follower, I do have to point out that the responsibility does not solely rest on the leaders shoulders. A few things that I noticed and learned as a follower, and by observing my fellow followers was to try to follow in a direct line behind the leader, if possible. A direct line, or stream of people can cut through a pack much better than a bunched up group, and are less inclined to be held up as individuals, reducing the possibility of losing members. There’s no point getting in front of the leader, because then you kind of become the leader.. I think that walking alongside the leader isn’t particularly helpful, whilst you may be keeping them company, you’re also a distraction, and may hinder their leadership. If you’re not able to be in a direct line behind the leader, then make sure you are able to have them, or someone in the group in sight, so that you don’t get lost. Perhaps most important as a follower is to give feedback, either positive reinforcement, or constructive criticism. The leader needs to know that you’re on-board with their direction and vision, that you’re headed to the same place. The fact is that they may not know everything, but they may be too proud to admit that and need assistance from time to time.

Finally I want to point out that there seems to be no universal convention for walking. I tend to run by the principle of Keep-Left which falls in line with road rules, something that I think makes perfect sense. Yet here in Hong Kong, there appears to be a general keep right convention, where people stand on escalators on the right hand side, and those ‘overtaking’ or walking up/down them will do so on the left. On the streets it’s generally applied, but it can be as much of a mish-mash as the cars on the road, not unknown to have 5 cars across 3 lanes of traffic during peak hour…