You have the blood of a great warrior. To lead, you must also learn to follow.
– E.Y. Laster, Of Captivity & Kings
I once read the story of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application that asked, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.”
That story serves as a good reminder that while the calling and desire for leadership are as great as ever, there is also a need for good followers.
A misconception that I have observed over the years is that the two – leaders and followers have mutually exclusive roles. Either you are a leader or you are a follower. I don’t believe this to be true. We tend to assign titles of a follower or a leader along hierarchical lines. The higher you are in the organizational structure the more one might look upon you as a leader. If you are lower on the ladder you may be labeled as a follower.
Here’s the truth of the matter: The person labeled or looked upon as the follower may be more of a leader than the one with the title. It’s a common misconception. In some situations, the follower can wield more influence as a follower than the leader with the title or higher position. At the end of the day, the one with the influence is the leader.
Organizations are successful because of the collaborative efforts of good leaders and good followers who set aside their egos, pecking orders, and turf wars to create what they couldn’t do by themselves. Organizations are successful because of the collaborative efforts of good leaders and good followers who set aside their egos, pecking orders, and turf wars to create what they couldn’t do by themselves.
So what are some characteristics of good followers? Here are five worth considering.
A good follower puts the mission first
A good follower is all about advancing the mission of the organization. His focus is on how to achieve common goals and move the team forward. Their work ethic is unparalleled. Never take them for granted.
Good followers make good leaders because they are selfless. They understand that it’s not about them.
A good follower is highly loyal
Loyalty runs through the veins of good followers. They tend to be some of the most reliable and faithful people in your organization. It’s their work ethic and front-line presence that makes all the difference.
Good followers make good leaders because they know that without a culture built upon loyalty nothing else matters.
A good follower is service-minded
Good followers are valuable because they are also the ones who will go above and beyond the call of duty to serve their organization and people. These good followers are assets to your organization because they don’t wait around to be told something needs to be done – they do it.
Good followers make good leaders because they lead by example.
A good follower is an ideal team player
Ultimately, good followers are consummate team players. They are not driven by selfish ambitions. They fully embrace their role and desire to see others succeed. They don’t worry about who gets the credit. They know that every win moves the team forward.
Good followers make good leaders because they understand the power of teamwork.
Leaders and followers need each other. They need to embrace their interdependence because it’s how organizations work best. Leaders and followers need each other. They need to embrace their interdependence because it’s how organizations work best.
If you are a follower in your organization you need to wholeheartedly embrace that role. You also need to own the dynamic leadership qualities you have that contribute to its success. We need good followers now more than ever.