On Leaders, Followers, and Goals

Some thoughts on how we reach goals and whose goals we reach.

One of my Facebook friends who, like me, is going through a breakup of his marriage, posted the following quote on his timeline recently:

Following someone else’s trail, simply because it was a trail would take me to their goal, not necessarily mine.

– Tom Trimbath, from “Walking, Thinking, Drinking Across Scotland”

I immediately thought of my soon-to-be ex-husband and one of the complaints he used to justify his infidelity: According to him, I had “prevented him from achieving his goals.”

I realized that one of the reasons he hadn’t achieved his goals was hinted at in the quote above. With that in mind, I commented on Facebook:

Yes, this is very true. Some people are leaders and always will be. Other people are followers and always will be. A follower can’t help but get to someone else’s goal. That’s the difference between leaders and followers: a leader is driven to her own goal; a follower is not.

And that pretty much sums up the difference between me and my husband when it comes to achieving goals. I was — and still am — driven. He apparently was not.

Jungle Path
It’s a lot easier to follow a trail than to blaze one. (I followed this path in Florida last winter.)

Let’s face it: it’s easier to follow someone else down a trail than to blaze your own: literally or figuratively. Imagine walking through a dense patch of woods with lots of undergrowth. If you’re leading the way without a trail to follow, it’ll be tough to move forward. Tough, but not impossible. If you want to get through badly enough, you’ll do it. Now imagine that a path through the woods already exists. It sure is easier to follow that path.

But what if the path leads to a different place than you want to go?

That’s the point of the quote above. When you follow someone else, you reach that person’s goals.

I am a driven person — that can’t be denied. I’m never satisfied with the status quo; I’m always moving, preferably forward, finding new things to try, new projects to explore, new goals to achieve.

Two months ago, for example, I bought a kayak and began paddling in local lakes. Before I began, I’d only been kayaking once and didn’t really enjoy it much. But with the right kayak, I discovered that it’s a great way to get outdoors, enjoy nature, and build some upper body strength.

Last month, I began learning about beekeeping. Since then, I bought my first hive and am preparing to set it up with bees. The short-term goal: to produce comb honey for sale in local wineries and farm stands. Long term? Pollination services, queen production, nuc production, pollen production. (This could turn out to be an excellent retirement career.)

These are just two recent examples. My whole life is full of them. That’s the way I am. That’s the way I like to be.

Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to follow someone else. I would have loved to follow my husband. The problem is, no one is leading in a direction I’m interested in going. My husband certainly wasn’t.

My husband wasn’t leading anyone anywhere. He followed me as I learned to ride motorcycles, as I took up horseback riding, as I began to fly. He was right behind me — not ahead of me — as I achieved some of my goals. My goals became his and they enriched his life. It was nice to have a partner for all of these things.

But his own goals? The few he shared with me were never reached.

He claimed he wanted to become a solar/wind consultant and wasted about six months floundering around at home, trying (and failing) to build a client base. I helped by starting a website for him and designing business cards. But I couldn’t lead him because it wasn’t my goal and I had no interest in making it my goal.

He claimed he wanted to open and operate a bicycle repair shop. I thought that was a great idea. When coupled with rentals, it would make a great summer business along the 11-mile bike trail in Wenatchee, near where I worked each summer. I was even ready to invest by obtaining a handful of Segways for guided tours. I could help him on sunny days when I didn’t have to fly; he could help me on rainy days when no one wanted to ride bikes. What could be better? But he never did anything to make this goal a reality. And I couldn’t lead him because I already had my hands full trying to build my summer flying business.

He claimed he wanted to enter retirement as a certified flight instructor (CFI) for airplanes, doing some training and conducting biennial flight reviews for pilots. I thought that was a great idea. I pointed out, on more than one occasion, that to achieve that goal, he needed to build more experience as a pilot. He needed to fly more often than the 20 to 30 hours a year he flew. He needed to get his commercial pilot certificate and his CFI certificate. I never stopped him from doing any of these things — indeed, I encouraged him every time the topic came up. But he did nothing to achieve any of these things. I couldn’t lead him because I was not an airplane pilot and didn’t want to be one. I’d already built my career as a helicopter pilot.

It hurt me when he accused me of preventing him from achieving his goals. He was blaming me for his failures.

I wonder sometimes how much his girlfriend/mommy will help him achieve these goals. Or whether he’ll simply start following her as she goes about her business — whatever that business might be. It’s far more likely that he’ll dig down deeper in the rut he’s in, comfortable with an older, less ambitious woman to hold his hand while they enter their “golden years” in front of the television, with occasional forays into the the world on week-long budget package tours to Europe and Hawaii.


As I’ve said before in this blog and I’ll likely say again, I feel so sorry for him. I thought he was a better man, a stronger man. I thought he could be a leader. I wish he could have been a leader for me, at least for a few goals.

Leading is hard work and it can be tiring. It would be nice to be a follower once in a while. The trick is to follow someone who’s going the way you want to go.

I’m looking for that leader now.

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