Know When To Lead And When To Be Led

On Tuesday, I successfully extended my German visa by a few months–a big relief since I’ve heard that Germany is strict with the Schengen visa. In early July, I took a six month sabbatical from my heartwork in Mexico to follow my heart to Bielefeld, a small city in northeast Germany whose biggest attraction, by far, is a sweet Spanish teacher from San Cristóbal de las Casas. (You might remember him from here?)

Awesomepreneur: Tip #16 - Know when to lead and when to be led

No regretz


Before he was my boyfriend, Roberto was my best friend, and now he is slowly becoming the backbone of my business. He is the silent R in the new RKA ink, by my side for the entire re-design, always on call to do a little site surgery when I needed it. (Except when he found me spooning my computer at 3 AM. That’s where he drew the line.) Beto is cool under pressure–the best surgeons are calm and precise–and he keeps my head on straight when I feel it starting to spin. This week, he gave me an awesomepreneurial insight about leadership that helped me put my heartwork into perspective.

Next to Activator, my number two strength is Strategic, so naturally, when I decided to take a Beto break in Bielefeld, I made a blueprint for my stay, with plans for growing my business, re-designing my two websites, and jetting off to Italy or Spain with my boo on the weekends. Because Roberto and my long term heartwork is in San Cristóbal de las Casas, neither of us knows when we’ll be back to Europe or when I’ll have this much uninterrupted time to focus on RKA ink, so we planned to make the most of it. My vision was part Roman Holiday, part Baby Boom–minus the baby part. (They really need to make more movies about powerhouse women awesomepreneurs. After nixing Working Girl, Erin Brockovich, and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, I’m drawing a complete blank.)

Needless to say, my eyes were too big for my stomach. The Strategic Activator looked at six months in Europe with my sweetheart with hungry eyes.

Not surprisingly, things didn’t exactly go according to plan. I re-made Roman Holiday into Bielefeld Kitchen Holiday–my days are spent in the office I share with the fridge and the oven, my temporary work space while I’m overseas. This is where I’ve spent the vast majority of the past (almost) 90 days. No Italy. No Spain. No thriving baby food business. Just long days, hard work, and a few stolen strolls with my guy. Truth is, I can’t complain. I am doing my heartwork (and working up a lil’ sweat!) and, with Beto, the kitchen might as well be Rome.

But I must confess that I was nonetheless humbled–shaken–with disappointment in myself for having to veer from my (admittedly ambitious) route. I felt I had failed as our “leader.” And, yeah, I kinda freaked out.

The most recent hiccup in my plan was a tooth infection that flared up last weekend and ripped my productivity to shreds.

This is not in the plan.

I worked through it, even at half-speed, banging out fourteen hours on Saturday with a hot compress on my face. Beto sat with me, gave me design feedback, and, as you might expect, distracted me with a salsa break or two. Then, on Sunday, before my brains started oozing out my ears, he took me canoeing.

Well, technically, our roommate Vera took us canoeing. Vera, who you’ll be meeting in a few weeks as an Awesomepreneur We Love, is a canoe and kayak guide, photographer, and awesome human being who splits her year between Germany and New Zealand and she invited us on a half-day canoe trip on Sunday, as her German stay is soon drawing to a close. Vera thought it would be funny to put Roberto and I in one canoe and guide us through the (small, yeah they were small) rapids in her kayak. Once we were on the river, Vera told us that Canadian canoes were referred to as “divorce boats” because so many couples couldn’t handle the challenge of guiding a canoe down a weaving, bubbling river. She regaled us with stories about marital meltdowns on the high seas.

Awesomepreneur - TIp #16: Know when to lead and when to be led

Vera Schaefer, awesomepreneur canoe guide + photographer


I don’t know why, but shortly before the trip, I bragged about going white water rafting when I was in sixth grade–like it somehow prepared me to canoe (small) rapids in Germany seventeen years later. I still haven’t told Vera how embarrassingly ridiculous I feel now but I think my canoe performance speaks for itself. I was a fool with a paddle. At every (small, very small) twist or turn, my brain turned to mashed potatoes. Beto, on the other hand, was a smooth operator. When I short-circuited, he calmly and firmly stepped in, calling out much-needed directions to kneel, turn, and “stop doing that, please, Rach.”

Awesomepreneur: Tip #16: Know when to lead and when to be led

A fool and her fella


Yesterday, as we were talking about my disappointment over our recent detours, I confessed that I feared I had crafted a map that was taking us in the wrong direction. Beto said,

You know, I realized something on the river the other day. When something doesn’t go according to your plans, you totally freak out.”


“And I know you love to dream and plan exactly what’s going to happen every step of the way, but sometimes you can’t control that, and when you feel you can’t control something, Rach, you go a little crazy.”

Forehead slap.

“But that’s okay–that’s why we make a good team. I’m not a long-term planner like you, but I know how to read the map and I know how to guide the boat when the water is rough. I can make new plans when we have to change direction. That’s my strength. I like to observe and wait until it’s my time to lead.”

This Sunday on the river, if I had not let myself be led, our “divorce boat” would surely have capsized. But it didn’t. I learned that giving other people space to lead isn’t always about “giving up” control–heck, I was already out of it. What can I say? Navigating rocky waters isn’t my claim to fame (despite that one time in sixth grade when I “braved” a raft for an hour and a half). That’s where Roberto comes in.

Whether it’s part of a romantic partnership, a work team, or a community, all of us are called to lead and be led at different moments in time. For Roberto and I, romantic partners and business partners–and don’t forget canoe partners!–at the beginning of our journey, we are learning that rythym of give and take, guide and trust. And I am learning to let him lead.

Originally, I wanted to write about how not to freak out when the water gets rough and your route must change. But, who am I kidding? I have no business talking about that. But what I can share, is how, as awesomepreneurs under construction (a lifelong process), when we feel like we’ve lost all control, we must be willing to let others lead and embrace their insights on re-writing our plans. We must make way for other peoples’ strengths.

As for Beto and I, I’ll let you know where we’re headed when we get there.

Awesomepreneur - Tip #16: Know when to lead and when to be led

Follow the leader


Rachael Kay Albers

Rachael Kay Albers is a creative director, business comedian, and brand strategist gone wild. She writes and performs about branding, pop culture, tech, and identity. When she’s not muckraking about marketing, Rachael runs RKA ink, a reinvention studio and branding agency for businesses that burn the rulebook. She's also on Instagram a lot.