Should Leaders Be Followers? Lead Well, Follow Well
On my team, we talk about leadership all the time, as you can imagine. A few months ago, there was confusion about what it means to be a follower, and it was asked if leaders should be followers?
We must be clear in our understanding of what it means to be a follower and be very comfortable not just being great leaders, but also great followers. Personally, I am one happy leader and one happy follower. Yes, great leaders are great followers.
There are two ways to understand follower-ship. First, we should be willing to follow anyone who is better than us in an area, regardless of their rank. Second, we must follow those in authority over us. In this sense, following means to submit to authority, as long as they are treating us with dignity. Great leaders must understand these two principles well and put them into practice.
Those Who Have Gone Before Me
I am proud to be a follower—a follower of great leaders. I am honored to follow great leaders who have led the journey before me. I am happy to allow people who are better than me in certain areas to have an influence on my life. Forget who the boss is for a moment. I lead you in the areas in which I am stronger than you. I take the lead in those areas, and hopefully you will come along with me if you are a good follower. And I will follow you in the areas in which you are stronger.
Isn’t this a good principle? The best relationships allow grace for this exchange. They require mutual respect between two people. Both lead well. Both follow well.
Those Who Have Authority Over Me
We must not be intimidated when someone has authority over us. The most beautiful form of leadership is when we lead those we report to—those who maintain authority over us. Our bosses need our help. Many times we look at them as overlords. A better way is to see them is as fellow sojourners who help lead the way. Because they are, and they do. Often our bosses look up to us even though they have a higher position than us. The higher we go as their follower, the higher they will go as a result. That’s how it should be.
I have learned in my life that in some seasons I have authority, and in other seasons others have authority over me. But in all seasons, I lead! All the time, I must positively and powerfully influence those around. In some settings I am the boss, while in other settings I am not. And that’s okay; it shouldn’t bother me.
Following others must not threaten us. I long for amazing leaders in my life with whom I can go great places! I want to learn from them. Teachers, mentors, people in my circle whom I can look up to and emulate—I gladly follow their lead given they treat me with respect and dignity.
I want to encourage you to celebrate and covet being a follower. It is a great responsibility. Be an intentional follower: look for great leaders, and don’t settle when you have the option to choose who will lead you. Be a leader (a positive influence) to those who are in authority over you.
Leaders must be followers.
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