lead, follow or wallow


Many people in leadership roles don’t act like leaders. Conversely, people without formal authority can be very strong leaders. Most of us aspire to lead our family, communities, professions, relationships, or workplaces. Leaders are inspired and inspire others.

A central theme in my decades of trying to understand, apply, and teach leadership skills is that leadership is an action, not a position. Leadership is what we do, not who we are. Who we become is determined by what we repeatedly think and do.

Leadership shines through most clearly when we face turbulence, adversity, or unwanted change. Those trying times often involve suffering or loss. That could be the loss of a loved one, our health or physical mobility, a relationship, a job, money, autonomy, control, or status.

Which Framing Level: Wallowing, Following, or Leading?

 Most of my workshops, retreats, and keynotes start with the WFL model as a foundational framework. It evolved out of our work on personal, team, and organizational effectiveness. It’s the leadership base for how we choose to respond to situations that we might not have chosen.

WFL pinpoints our home on our Range of Reality and whether we’re wearing C.R.A.P. glasses.


The greasy downgrade of negativity and cynicism can very quickly skid over a cliff into the swamp of despair and helplessness. Wallowers take a bad situation and make it worse. Wallowers “blamestorm” in their search for someone to point the finger at. Wallowers crave certainty and long for the “good old days,” — which they used to complain about incessantly and would resent returning to. Wallowers are overwhelmed by the problem and narrow their field of vision to few or no options.

Wallowers live in a world of hurt and worry. In positions of power, they use fear to “motivate” and manipulate. Wallowers believe most people are incompetent and can’t be trusted; they focus on weaknesses and gaps. Wallowers use punishment, criticism, and threats to shove others toward higher performance. Bullies are usually wallowers. Wallowers set up destructive magnetic energy fields of negative vibrations.

Wallowers often play the victim. Their world is full of conspiracies with lots of “they” talk: “They are out to get us,” “They don’t understand,” and “They never listen to us.” Wallowers routinely ride the Bitter Bus down Helpless Highway through Frown Town past Pessimism Place, Whining Way, and Dead-End Drive into Pity City. Many wallowers drive the Bitter Bus and actively recruit fence-sitting followers to join them.


When faced with a setback, major change, or difficulty, many people sit “on the line” in Following mode. Followers are often waiting to see what else might happen. Followers are looking to others for direction. They may not jump right on the Bitter Bus, but they are at the front of the line to get on whatever bus shows up. They don’t see the glass as half full or half empty but see both sides — or twice as much glass as is required. Typical comments from followers are, “Somebody should do something about this,” “I am waiting for a decision,” or, “I am staying out of the line of fire.”

Followers at the right end of the Following spectrum are skeptical but hopeful. They might be analyzing the situation to understand what happened and what their options might be in dealing with it. To avoid being on the “bleeding edge” of change or jumping in too quickly with a ready-fire-aim approach, they might be weighing how to respond. With the right encouragement or positive influence, they’re close to stepping up to deal with the situation.

At the left or cynical end of the Following scale, followers are feeling helpless and cynical. With a slight push or just a bit more negative influence, they’ll start to slide down the slippery slope of cynical pessimism.


Stepping up the leadership stairs is the way to rise above and master the situation. Leaders take the initiative to make the best of the bad hand that’s been dealt. Leaders often live with ambiguity and paradox while exploring and creating a broad array of options. Leaders try to live in the moment while building for the future. Leaders believe most people are competent and trustworthy until proven otherwise. Leaders assume good intent. Leaders look for the best in people and focus on reinforcing and leveraging everyone’s strengths.

Leaders face tough times squarely. They don’t sugarcoat or flee from difficult situations or touchy conversations. Leaders bring hope by focusing beyond what is to what could be. Leaders are self-aware and build disciplined habits of continuous improvement. Leaders are grateful and look for opportunities to celebrate and recognize progress. Leaders praise and encourage others to higher performance. Leaders set up affirmative magnetic energy fields of positive vibrations. Leaders are “inspir-actional.”

Leaders are navigators and say, “I am going to do something about this”; “How can we capitalize on this change?”; “We’ve overcome problems before, and we can do it again.” Leaders drive the Success Express and recruit followers to hop on board the Better Bus as they cruise on Positive Parkway through Joyful Junction and Happy Hamlet past Peak Performance Place, past Winner’s Circle, and into Pretty City.

Yes…I like to jest for the pun of it with a few Dad jokes

Groaning or Growing?




Pessimism Cynicism/Skepticism Optimism
Negative Neutral Positive
Fear Caution Courage
Hopeless Helpless Hopeful
Resists change Watches change Leads change
Reactive Passive Proactive
Makes excuses Goes along Gets results
Impossibility thinking Probability thinking Possibility thinking
Complaining about what happened Watching it happen Making it happen
Losing perspective Looking for perspective Shaping perspective
Whining and complaining Watching and waiting Promoting and supporting
Life is mostly sin and evil Life is mostly tolerable Life is mostly goodness and love
Energy vampire Energy giver/taker Energy source

Do you spend most of your time wallowing, following, or leading? Take the “Where’s My Line” quiz to find out.