Follow / Unfollow – Making Relationships Work

By March 27, 2013Generations

Lead an Unlife LifeSince the beginning of time, individuals have been in relationships. From good to bad, and everything in between, relationships have lifted people up as well as held them down. Relationships are a tricky thing. We want them badly. We discard them quickly. We pursue them with all our heart. We run away from them with all our slyness.

In business and life, there are people we associate with. Some we have to; some we want to. Some we need to avoid. Who do we follow? Who do we unfollow?

To Follow

The individuals leading the way need to be on a path of integrity, taking us to places that challenge us, enlighten us, and help lift others up all along the way.

It is about a path. We need to follow people who have a vision of where the path can go when we all work together. We need to follow people filled with purpose. It is a forward looking excitement unbound with inclusiveness and significance.

The path also has a past, filled with actions to assess and words to evaluate. Does the past show a consistency of words and action and, most importantly, of trust? The rearview mirror look of the people we follow doesn’t need to be perfect but it does need to be one filled with integrity of work, word, and ways.

We need to follow people who:

  • Respect us
  • Listen to us
  • Make us better
  • Learn continuously
  • Change to improve and enhance

To Unfollow

Unfollowing others is challenging. There is a past web of interaction and other friends tangled in. When we remove ourselves from the web, some damage will be done, but how much greater is the damage if we stay tangled in?

We need to unfollow the individuals who are controlling, leading us to only do what they want done, and travel in the questionable areas of life. If we feel stuck in doing things against our values and goals or feel taken advantage of in what we do and say, then it is time to unfollow. If we feel threatened or feel others are being threatened, then we need to unfollow. If we are doing things we feel queasy about or raise more questions than answers, then we need to unfollow.

At times, it may take more than a simple unfollowing to get out of bad relationships. It may involve letting others know of the issues and troubles. It may include restarting in new places and new friends. It may require us to step up our character and drive a change to take place.

We cannot be bystanders in our communities. Life demands us to be an engaged character and build up other characters involved in the stories unfolding as we live fully alive.

As challenging as it may be at times, we need to unfollow those getting our life story off track or, worse, harming our unfolding plot, taking us off theme and off direction. Even more importantly, at times, we need to step up and stop others from doing harm and making inappropriate, damaging choices. It is the call for us to lead, at any age.

A Quick Follow/ Unfollow Test

Is there a follow/unfollow test? I believe we know when, if we are mindful and self-aware. However, we may need a further push to recognition, and these simple questions may help:

  • Are you following people who make you a better person?
  • Are you following people who allow you to make them better a better person?
  • Do the people you follow exhibit the best integrity in what they do?
  • Do the people you follow make you think better thoughts, do better things?
  • Do the people you follow serve other people?

If any of the answers are “no,” then you need to unfollow.

Being a Leader: Making Relationships Work

There may be a more important question to answer first – Do you have a relationship with yourself? If not, you need to start here. You need to connect to who you are and capable of being. You need to define your values, understand your character, and embrace your purpose. Doing these things will set the right course in connecting with the friends, colleagues, and communities to live a full and meaningful life and leadership story.

Follow/unfollow is an important element to living an unlife life. It is calling us to unfollow the people holding us back and follow those who lift us up. As leaders, we need to demonstrate the characteristics of who we want to follow. There is a consistency of character required.

We need strong relationships to be a strong leader. We need strong relationships to support us when our life story falters. We need strong relationships to guide us as our life story unfolds. We need to follow the right people to lead in the right way. We need to lead in the right way to encourage and challenge the people following us.

This is what makes relationships work.

What factors would you add in who you follow or unfollow?

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 23 Comments

  • Angelique Tonge says:

    Thanks Jon, was just trying to figure the whole twitter follow/unfollow thing out (newbie). I’ve also seen people (with many followers) follow me only to unfollow me shortly afterwards. While i dont mind too much, I’m new after all, it definitely doesn’t build trust in my opinion. Follow people for the right reasons. It seems somehow unethical to let people think you’re following them, only to immediately unfollow them. In the online world people have become so disposable.

    • Jon M says:

      I agree, Angelique. It doesn’t set a good example or set a relationship of trust. We need to build relationships in which we can all learn and grow. Thanks for your comment and insights. Appreciate it! Jon

  • Yvonne says:

    Love your site, Jon. Great articles. Thanks.

  • John McQuillan says:

    I’m a dreamer, to the utmost, so I would say that if your dream is their impossible, and they are speaking that into me, it’s time to cut the strings. The reason the world is filled with negativity, poverty, and war is because someone’s always there to say, “that’s not gonna happen- be realistic.” Realistically, we’d never have seen the kind of progress the modern world provides if it had been dependent on “realistic people.” Great article Jon! Thanks 😉

  • You’re right, Jon. I’d follow people who help me propel, rise, and orient myself to make my life meaningful. I’d be away from people who induce negativity, try to fill me with doubt and discouragement, and lead me to astray.

    Our priorities change with time and we need to follow and unfollow accordingly. If you think you’re progressing, and your past relationships are holding you back, either convince them to go forward with you, or you drop them – nothing is worthy enough that dwarfs or delimits your personal development. Thanks.

    • Jon M says:

      Good points, Harleena. The goal would be all would advance but, unfortunately, this doesn’t happen all the time. We need to be aware of the impact on us and be humble in how we work with others or unfollow those that are hindering us. Thanks for joining in! Jon

  • Bruce Sallan says:

    Nice turn on our conventional re-thinking of follow and unfollow Jon – now, I’m going to Unfollow you…JUST KIDDING!

  • Kath Roberts says:

    I follow those that have choose to pitch up every day and be the best they can be, people who share heart and soul not just the expertise and the wins, people who yearn for a better world for our children and all of us to share in the glory. I choose leaders who’ll create leaders not followers. Great post Jon-thought provoking as always!

    • Jon M says:

      Great points, Kath. I like the aspect of those who “share heart and soul.” Those are key elements that make a relationship really work for all involved, as well as helping create more leaders. Great add! Thanks. Jon

  • Kyle Willkom says:

    This is great. It’s important for all of us to recognize that who we follow or unfollow does not just apply to our behaviors online, but in every relationship we foster. Your term “Consistency of character” will stick with me as well. Thanks for sharing.

  • Randy Conley says:

    Excellent message Jon! From a self-perspective, I can think of many behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs that I need to un-follow:
    -Self doubt
    -False pride

    And the list could go on and on!

    The issue of following/un-following relationships has been a recent topic of discussion with my 16 year-old son. I’ve been encouraging him to follow relationships that help him be the best version of himself that he can be. If the relationship isn’t moving him upward toward that goal, then perhaps he should un-follow. And the opposite is true as well. His relationships need to be helping the other person become the best version of themselves.

    Take care,


    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, Randy. Great insights that you added! And, I agree, on having this conversation with your sons and daughters. I have tried to do the same, as it is a vital one for them to think about. It is not only who to follow or unfollow but also when they may need to step up or step in to prevent inappropriate things from happening. We need to talk more about what an engaged community should look like and what the responsibilities are. Thanks so much for you added wisdom! Jon

  • Love these insights, Jon!

    I especially appreciate your suggestion to actively engage and to be thoughtful about who we engage with. In today’s social media world it’s easier than ever to follow and be followed by more people than we can manage- further cluttering and clogging our already full lives.

    I also appreciate your tip to have a relationship with ourselves. Whenever I get myself in trouble it’s usually because I have temporarily put a million other things before my relationship with myself. When I stop attending to myself, I make choices that aren’t really in my best interest and then I become irritable and unreasonable, and there’s just no good there!

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom!


    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Chrysta. Appreciate your feedback and insights. I do believe we need to start with ourselves. It helps us be a better partner with others and also ensures we are following the people who make each other better. Grateful! Jon

  • Thought-provoking questions, Jon. Relationships are indeed the foundation of our personal and professional lives. In choosing who to follow/spend time with, I’ve pretty much gone with one question, “Do I feel energized by being with this person?” Those who energize me engage me because of some or all of the following: 1) They inspire me to be my best, and vice versa; 2) I respect their values, perspective and way of being; 3) I can learn something from them (while often having something to contribute, though not necessarily the case always); 4) we complement each other; and 5) collaborate well together. Thank you for addressing an important topic!

    • Jon M says:

      A great add, Alice! That is a great feeling to have, being energized by another. It is an important element in any relationship. Thank you for adding this in! Jon

  • Alli Polin says:

    Jon, The quick test gave me pause… because for some of the people I was thinking about, my answer was no. Has me thinking on what it means to be engaged. Unfollowing the people who call forth apathy in me, or worse, sycophancy, is renewing my commitment to authentic engagement with full integrity. Thanks, Jon!

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, Alli. I think that is exactly what we need to do at times…. pause and ensure we are connected in the right way and doing the right things. I know I have taken that step back, too, and re-assess where I am at in my relationships. Thanks! Jon

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