How To Become a Great Follower

I was wandering through a bookstore the other day, noticing which sections were the largest.  There were tons of books about finances, computer programs, self-help and business.

Penguin leadership

I assumed that these sections were large because people were buying those kinds of books.  Bookstores don’t try to dictate people’s tastes; they find out what those tastes are, then satisfy the need.

Penguin leadershipOne of the biggest sections was about leadership.

I looked through shelf after shelf of leadership books, and realized how much great stuff has been written about how to become a world-class leader.  “If you have influence, you’re a leader,” the book jackets stated.

So the implication is that we all need to become leaders.

The problem with that message is that if we don’t strive to become a leader, we must be settling for average.

We’re mediocre.

We’re a non-leader.

But is non-leadership always a bad thing?  If everyone were a leader, there wouldn’t be anyone to lead.

What about becoming a world-class follower?

I’m thinking that if people became effective followers, the leaders would be much more effective.  They wouldn’t have to spend so much time managing, so they would have more time to lead.

So, what does it take to be a world-class follower?

  • Become a student of your leader.  Learn how they think, where their strengths and passion are, and what they want and need from you.
  • Encourage your leader.  Never flatter them – but catch them doing something right and acknowledge their success.
  • Keep your leader informed before they ask, whether the news is good or bad.  Admit mistakes immediately, bring bad news as soon as it happens, and keep them posted on everything going on.  Information you provide before it’s asked for has more credibility than afterwards.
  • Be loyal to your leader behind their back.  Never go over their head to their boss unless it’s praise.
  • Do what you promise, no matter how small.  Your leader needs to know they can count on you, and little oversights don’t go unnoticed.  Consistency builds trust.
  • Be there for support when they go through tough times.  They’re human.
  • See them as a mentor – learn from them.  Read the books they read so you can have common ground for interaction.
  • Take initiative.  Don’t wait to be told what to do; anticipate what is needed and do it.
  • Provide solutions along with problems.

It seems like these suggestions apply, not just to followers, but to leaders as well.  Great followers might not become leaders, but there are no great leaders who are not great followers.

How would you apply these principles in your job?  Your marriage? Your family? Your church?

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Speaker, Author of 5 books – including “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys,” “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions,” and “Dealing With the Elephant in the Room.” (See Book page)

  • Jtb

    Timely message. I work in a flat organization (no supervisors) and am told My leadership is needed in the organization. It’s been a challenge. Leading requires influence and trust and time is required to develop both. It has been frustrating lately and I have been doing a flip flop between “do I continue to lead (lonely here) Or follow. Decision – if an opportunity arises to lead I will take it but until then I can use your tips to follow the key stakeholders in our organization.

    • (Sorry for the delay in responding . . . ) You’re exactly right — trust isn’t something that comes with a title. It has to be earned over time by being trustworthy. If you hone your ‘following’ skills, you’ll be ready when asked to lead! Thanks for your thoughts.