“He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.” –Aristotle
Aristotle was a smart guy, but how does being a follower connect to being a good leader? Don’t, leaders lead, and followers follow?
But wait –every military general started out as a lowly soldier. And every company president started somewhere a whole lot closer to the bottom. Plus, more often than not, most leaders are simultaneously following someone else.
It turns out that being a good follower is a training ground for being a good leader. Traits necessary for success as a good follower are also necessary for success as a good leader. Good followers have traits of backbone and courage, commitment and loyalty, awareness and compassion, and a willingness to work. These should sound very, very familiar to any good leader!
Here’s how these traits go hand in hand with following and leading!
- Backbone and Courage
In the same way good leaders must have courage to do hard, sometimes unpopular things, so do good followers. It can take courage to trust and follow a leader regardless of how it feels in-the-moment. On the other hand, if a good follower has the conviction their leader is heading in the wrong direction, it can take even more courage to respectfully speak up. Both scenarios are “building-muscle” for those moments of tough leadership.
- Commitment and Loyalty
Good followers are committed and loyal to the mission of their organization. It’s ingrained into them as they ride the ebb and flow of business along with their leaders. Commitment to anything of value often means selflessness is in order. Good leaders, and good followers, must ignore smaller, temporary, and self-promoting goals. The transformation of follower to leader is organic when it comes to commitment to the bigger picture.
- Awareness and Compassion
A good follower who is “in the trenches” has a keen understanding of the needs of those around them. They are aware of what is going on, have a collaborative approach to receiving the input and ideas of others, and know they cannot operate alone. They know this because they see and experience it every day.
This same type of awareness and compassion is critical in good leadership. Good leaders care about those they lead because they have empathy for what it is to be a follower. They are sensitive to the needs of those around them and tune into the heartbeat of the organization.
- Willingness to Work
All good followers have a willingness to work hard. They believe in the long-term vision and understand that it takes “blood, sweat, and tears” to get there. A strong company leader recognizes their team’s hard work. Because they have been there, they know they could not fulfill their role without the team. Likewise, good leaders work alongside their team. They are also willing to jump in and do the hard things — even the menial and mundane when the need arises.