Great Follower, Great Leader

February 17, 2016

To be a great leader you must first be a great follower. I remember hearing that in many MBA courses but felt it was just an interesting theory. Years after being an employee in many capacities I began to realize that supervisors, managers, and leaders who knew what I actually did every day and visited me often made decisions that seemed to matter to the organization as a whole. I looked up to those in charge and aspired to be like them to make progress and success for all. Later I realized all bosses, in whatever capacity, used to be a follower at some point.

August Turak, with Forbes, wrote about this topic in his article titled The 11 Leadership Secrets You’ve Never Heard About. Here’s a summary of a great follower:

  • Must seize initiative
  • Create your own job
  • Are coachable
  • Anticipate what needs to be done
  • Are a great communicator
  • Are goal driven
  • Show but don’t tell
  • Earn trust
  • Offer solutions
  • Are compassionate
  • Are loyal

After reading this list, and perhaps having had a little experience with leadership, you might wonder how is this different from being a leader? August and my experiences show that the line dividing a follower and leader slowly blurs as experience and expertise are gained. As August points out, everybody has a boss. One day your diligent study of being a great follower will allow you to show yourself as a great leader. This is because a great follower possesses similar traits as a leader. A great leader will place great followers in the right places as needed. Given time you too will shine and be asked to spread light for others.

John McCallum with the Ivey Business Journal connects the dots between leader and follower with an organization succeeds not only with great leadership but with great followers. After all, a leader wouldn’t be a leader without followers to lead. Here are some follower qualities he notes:

  • Work ethic
  • Competence
  • Honesty
  • Courage
  • Discretion
  • Loyalty
  • Ego management


(Photo courtesy of Forbes)

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