Leaders Follow

Leaders Follow

Leaders Follow: It’s about Leadership Development

The best leaders are also the best followers. This is true because becoming a leader is a developmental journey. Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges in their book Lead Like Jesus propose that leaders should follow a logical development from one level of leadership to the next. Good leadership starts with learning to lead oneself.  The next level is  one-on-one leadership.  Then, the leader is ready to lead a team. Mastery of team leadership prepares the leader for organizational leadership. The largest scope of leadership influences society and culture.  Sometimes people observe that a leader is  “in over his or her head.” This situation can happen when a leader skipped a leadership level or failed to master the level of leadership that preceded the current role.

Leaders Follow: It’s about Accountability

With the exception of dictators, everyone must be a leader and a follower at the same time. Nearly all leaders have a group of followers that are accountable to them. Those same leaders  are also accountable to their leaders, a governing body, or business partner. Even the President of the United States is accountable to the Congress and to the Supreme Court. Most of us are constantly moving between leader and follower roles.

Leaders Follow: It’s about Being Intentional

Understanding this reality, the best leaders intentionally cultivate their ability to lead well and their ability to follow well. In their leadership, these leaders demonstrate a high sensitivity to their followers. Why is this? This is because the leader intentionally remembers his or her experience as a follower. Remembering what it is like to be a follower helps these leaders to make better decisions and to give better care to their followers. Likewise, these leaders intentionally help their supervisors to provide the best possible leadership. These leaders are great followers because they remember that their own leadership effectiveness depends on positive, competent followers.

Leaders Follow: Disconnection Causes Problems

Problems occur when people disconnect leading and following. This disconnection happens when individuals or organizations assign a high status to leading and a low status to following. Consequently, those who want to “get ahead” pursue larger leadership roles. In the pursuit of a higher status, the leader becomes less appreciative of the competence, contributions, and well-being of his or her “lower status” followers. At the same time, this leader is less likely to be the best possible follower of the leader’s current supervisor.

I am not saying that it is bad to aspire to greater roles of responsibility. I am saying that a leader will not provide the best possible leadership if that leader does not equally aspire to be a great follower.

Leaders Follow: It’s about Moving Easily between Roles

People often move between leader and follower roles in varying areas of life. For example, you may be a top executive at work, but in your religious or civic organization, you are a committee member who must follow another leader. Likewise, at work your may have no leadership role, but be the top leader of a community organization. How can you move easily between leader and follower roles? Here’s the key.

Leaders Follow: The Golden Rule

I call this key the Golden Rule of Leaders Follow. Lead as you want to be led; follow as you want to be followed. In its most basic form, this means leaders should always strive to do the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time, and in the right way. Likewise, the best followers do everything possible to help their leader(s) do the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time, and in the right way.

What do you think? If you agree that the best leaders are often the best followers, share your observations in a comment. If you disagree, share your point of view so we can learn from your perspective. Whether you agree or disagree, I hope this post encouraged you to be a better leader and/or a better follower.

Follow the conversation about Leaders Follow on Leaders Alive! January 16th on WJOB 1230 AM. You can stream the broadcast live from the WJOB website.



  • Yes responding appropriately is critical. I would add that responding in a timely manner is also important. Too many people put off responding. They may be gathering information however just letting others know the behind the scenes is important. Otherwise speculation grows. Especially in today’s constant contact world where everyone is accessible, communication patterns are all over the place. People don’t know what to expect

  • The best way to follow to be a great listener

    • Yes Jody, I agree that being a great listener is foundational. I think that being a great listener includes a willingness and good judgement to respond appropriately to what one hears. Would you add something to these two characteristics as well?

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