If you are an excellent leader, I bet you were an excellent follower. You see the traits for a quality leader aren’t that different than the traits of a quality follower. We are all followers in some part of our life…
In the rush to the top, eager leaders may balk at the role of a follower, downplaying its importance and become impatient with the role.
We Are All Followers
What these want-to-be leaders need to realize is that even the most senior leaders were and still are followers in different aspects of their life, be it in their family, sports teams, volunteer groups or a church role. This is a good thing because they are still learning to be a better leader by being a good follower.
The term follower often gets a bum wrap on any team but in order to have a team and a leader, you must have followers. Followers play a critical role for a leader. Just as leaders can learn to become better through communication skill development, mentoring and role-play training, followers need some training and direction as well to be productive team members.
Difference Between Leading and Following
Many followers want to be leaders some day and in this pursuit, they may sabotage their chances of ever becoming a quality leader because they feel there is a large difference between leading and following.
When I discuss followership in my leadership and team development retreats, I will get the group to brainstorm the traits of an excellent follower on a flip chart. Once they feel the list is complete, I will turn the list around, hiding it from the group. I will then ask them to brainstorm the traits needed to be an excellent leader.
[Brainstorming tip – Instead of the traditional technique of getting people to shout out the first answers that come to mind, get people to write their answers on post-it notes and stick them to a board or wall when finished. Shouting out answers can intimidate and disrupt the thought process as people try to generate ideas.]
You can probably imagine what happens next… I put both lists side-by-side and give them a moment to compare them. The lists are usually more similar than anyone expected.
For example, one list on how to be a good follower found here included these five aspects:
- Make sure you are fully aware of what you are signing up for.
- Be committed to your leader.
- Don’t agree blindly.
- Listen to other opinions with an open mind.
- Be prepared for things not going your way.
These items certainly apply to followership and by looking at them from a slightly different perspective, they can be applied to quality leadership as well. The next time you are a mentoring an up and coming group of leaders, take the time to make sure they realize they need to become an excellent follower first and that being an excellent leader is not that different from it. As you continue on your leadership journey, seek out, cherish and learn from your role as a follower.