While leadership sounds appealing, many consider following to be subservient. “I’ll never be a follower” is a statement we often hear. In the course, Follower Skills, Danette High states, “We will spend far more of our lives following than leading. Following is not a place to let your guard down, or to take a break from leadership.”
Great leaders understand the vital and dynamic relationship that must exist between leaders and followers. They also know when to lead and when to follow. These leaders remain excellent followers. Danette compares following and leading to a couple dancing. “Both have their own moves, but if the leader and follower truly partner, that’s where the beauty occurs.”
Since developing follower skills is practically non-existent in leadership training, many leaders have no idea how to do so. There are at least three secrets that great leaders know about following well.
Followers fill the leader’s gaps. It is no secret to great leaders that they are weak in some areas of leadership. They know they need excellent followers who will choose to help them develop. In the 2015 movie The Intern, Jules shows real wisdom by allowing Ben to give her wise counsel in areas where she lacks experience. When bad feedback comes, great leaders listen and learn with an open mind. They do not fear surrounding themselves with the most gifted followers available. On the contrary, they seek followers who can help them develop into better leaders.
How are your follower skills? Do you help fill the gaps in order for your leader to grow? Are you willing to go directly to a leader with creative approaches to help him or her learn how to improve?
Following leads to new skill acquisition. In the past, apprentices chose to work under experienced craftsmen who could teach them a specialized skill. Today, many people, such as interns, seek out the best leaders who will help them develop their skills. They look for excellent leaders who will train them well. Real leaders know this and can easily develop followers, because they, having been great followers, know by experience what followers need.
Do you have a teachable spirit? Do you seek out ways to gain and to teach new skills as you follow?
Great leaders build teams of great followers. Danette says, “To follow well is to give attention to relationships and shared goals in such a way that the team finds success.” Followers may have more influence on a team than leaders! When we look at the Israelites in the Bible, we see a great example of the influence followers can have. Ten of the twelve spies spoke so negatively about the giants in the land that the whole nation became discouraged and chose not to follow their leader, Moses, into the land that God promised them. Great leaders know the power and influence of followers. They build a team of followers who contribute positively to the team.
Do you contribute positively to your team?
Just as we seek to develop our leadership skills, improving our “follower” skills is also essential for the team to work together successfully in the interconnecting roles God gives us.
Claudia Johnson, CWLC Leadership Consultant