By Edwin M Valladares, MS, RPSGT

“Good leaders know how to lead and how to follow.” Not many books are written on this aspect of leadership, but it’s a foundational principle. In a world where leaders are interrupting industries, it is challenging to see how this principle can work. But it does. Being innovative does not equate to not working well with people. We are all leaders in one aspect or another. Whether we lead our family or a small group, we are accountable to someone. Company leaders are accountable to boards and/or their customers and must learn to work together.

Given we are all accountable to someone, following takes submission, trust and giving up our pride. To do so, we must see that there are various levels of leadership. I define leadership as having influence and responsibility over people to accomplish a goal. If you are in a technical position, you will need to learn to follow what has already been established by the leader of the organization and the leader you report to. This is the Achilles heel to many technical professionals that aspire to manage others. They have ideas and want to implement them but can’t see what the leader(s) above them see. So, they develop their own vision instead of aligning to the organization’s vision. When you see yourself as an innovator you have two choices: (1) leave the organization you are at and establish your own with your own ideas, or (2) suggest the ideas and wait. If you choose to suggest the idea and wait, listen to the response. Sometimes, it’s not a “No,” it’s just not the right time. Usually, leaders will explain why it’s not the right time and it’s up to you to trust and align your vision to the organization’s vision. Let go of your pride of believing that you know best and wait for the right time.

Organizations may have similar visions, but the foundation makes them different. Some were established with solid infrastructure from the beginning, while others started off less strong and find themselves expanding and simultaneously establishing the infrastructure. Knowing what type of organization you work for can be eye opening. For instance, you may get frustrated because you wish you had the tools that another organization has. However, the organization you work for may need to be profitable with the current tools before investing in new tools. This doesn’t always sit well with some people, but most organizations work the same. Comparing this scenario to your own household may help understand the point. You may want a better car, but if you haven’t finished paying other debt or you don’t have a way to bring in more money into your bank account you have to wait until you pay debt down or find a way to bring in more income. So next time you feel frustrated, ask yourself, “Am I adding to the negativity with my frustration or am I contributing ideas while keeping an up-beat attitude?” In the end if you are having a difficult time submitting, because you can not trust or give up your pride and wait for time, then you may want to reconsider being part of that organization. Especially if you are hoping to go up into management – whatever you see early on will only magnify. If you see good trustworthy practices, it gets better. But if you see issues (what I call red flags), their effects will only impact you even more as you go up the management ladder.

Edwin M. Valladares is the Manger of the Sleep Disorders Center at Keck Medical Center of USC where he manages the sleep clinic, sleep lab, coordinates the USC Center for Sleep Health Using Bioengineering (SleepHuB), and lectures to Sleep Medicine and Neurophysiology fellows. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Life Pacific University (formerly Life Pacific College) where he teaches the Integrated Life Science Laboratory and is a Board Member of the California Sleep Society (2016-2020).