Help Wanted: Good Followers

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.


Doug Dickerson
Doug Dickerson
DOUG has been speaking to audiences in the U.S. and overseas for more than 30 years. Doug knows how to spin a story, make you laugh, and how to challenge your traditional ways of thinking about leadership. Most of all, Doug is committed to helping you grow as a leader. Doug is a graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and studied Clinical Pastoral Education at Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. While his leadership expertise has its roots in ministry and teaching. His background also includes public relations and business. Doug understands the necessity of leadership development and why creating a leadership culture in your organization is critical to your success. He is the author of four leadership books including: Leaders Without Borders, 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders, Great Leaders Wanted, It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move, and Leadership by the Numbers. As a speaker, Doug delivers practical and applicable leadership insights with a dose of humor and authenticity that endears him to a wide range of audiences. Doug is a John Maxwell Team member.

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  1. Love the quote and your points here, Doug. Can you imagine a team filled with quarterbacks, point guards, or strikers? Or people who just want to get on stage and no one to set it up and break it down? A disaster. When you have a group of individuals who all know their role and execute against the strategic goal or mission, it’s a beautiful thing. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. With all the emphasis we put on the development of leaders, we often forget the importance of followership and that effective leaders need effective followers to succeed. Leadership matters a lot, but often in seeking the figure of the best leader we tend to lose sight of the people these leaders will lead. And like leadership, followership must also be developed and taught. After all, without the collaborators or the followers, the leader remains only a man with great ambitions.
    Followership is not the opposite of leadership. The traits of effective followership correspond to those of effective leadership. Organizations stand or collapse in part based on how well they are led by their leaders, but partly also based on how well followership behaves. There is a dynamic relationship of mutual benefit and support between the leader and the follower. Both need each other. It is in the interest of the company, team or organization to pay attention to both and to the dynamics of the mutual relationship.
    I believe that organizations or companies that look honest and open to this dynamic and focus on supporting both leaders and followers have the greatest chance of success. After all, followership is nothing but the other side of leadership.

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