If you want to lead well, you have to follow well.
While it may seem contradictory or even impossible, the idea of being able to lead well by following is actually more logical than you’d think. It’s almost as ridiculously obvious as it is seemingly counter-intuitive. Let’s take a look.
What Do Leaders Actually Lead?
At its basic level, leadership means leading people. While you can be a thought leader, you don’t actually lead thoughts. While you may be called the leader of an organization, you lead the people in the organization, not the legal entity. You can’t even be called the “race leader” unless there are competitors behind you to make you the leader. Leaders lead people, and good leaders attract good people to follow them.
Leaders Use Their Resources
Leaders who lead well utilize their resources to the advantage of the cause, whatever cause that may be for them. It may be financial, spiritual or relational, among others. The bottom line for each leader is different, but they all have one. The greatest resource any leader has is their people. Gather great people, lead them well, and great things happen. This is where following comes in.
The Benefits of Following
As a leader grows their organization, they will seek experts and practitioners to join their efforts. A leader would be foolish to hire an expert and then not let that expert lead in their respective area. The leader defaults to the knowledge of the expert and lets them lead in that area. As the leader brings more and more top-quality practitioners in, the leader follows more and more, allowing his or her specialists to shine. In turn, the followers feel engaged, empowered and thrilled to be working for the cause.
When Leaders Don’t Follow
Consider the leader who chooses not to be a follower. They consider themselves to be the expert in every area - they know all the answers. They refuse to give up authority and power to others, especially those subordinate to them. They feel a need to be part of every decision and tend to micro-manage. Often these behaviors come from feelings of superiority or insecurity or both. They stifle individual exceptionalism and ultimately thwart the power of employee ownership and engagement in the mission. Great people disengage or even leave.
How to Be a Follower as a Leader
The more a leader appreciates the mastery of those he or she leads, and gives them authority and influence in those areas, the more the overall team and organization will thrive. The leader becomes the follower, while still leading. A leader must learn to follow well in order to lead well.
Here are some practical ways to grow your skills as a follower:
Learn to ask questions of your team. Find out what they think is the best solution.
Don’t assume that you know best based on your own learning or experience.
Delay decision-making until you’ve heard from your team.
Defer decision-making to others rather than seeing yourself as the final authority.
Take your staff members to lunch one on one and just listen to their ideas. Take notes.
Hire a coach to help you discover ways you can grow your leadership prowess.
Wes Coddington leads The Center's Carlsbad, California office and serves as Pastor of Leadership Development at New Song Community Church in Oceanside. He has served in churches in New York, Pennsylvania, Canada and Southern California. Additionally, Wes has spent 15+ years working as a leadership and team consultant in profit, not-for-profit and educational environments. He has a B.S. in Bible and an M.S. in Organizational Leadership. He is also a credentialed coach with ICF. Wes brings experience in team alignment, leadership development and organizational health.