Leaders are followers…

This is some thinking I had on leadership recently…

A key to great leaders is that they are discerning followers. Why is that?

Everyone follows something/someone.

The claim, “I don’t follow anything” is groundless. From the moment of birth our lives are impacted by external stimuli bombarding our senses. Some of these things we have no choice over initially (the environment we start out life in, our parents/guardians, where we live etc.) but as we grow the amount of choice we have with the influences in our lives increases exponentially. With these increased choices comes the opportunity for us to choose what we follow.
This is where the difference between the average person and great leaders has a stark contrast. Great leaders are careful in choosing (where they have control over) what they will follow, the average person is more indiscriminate.

The evidence isn’t discovered until after the fact…

Great leaders aren’t always observed until sufficient time has passed that filters the great things they have been involved in. In hindsight, studying a great leader will reveal that their discernment in what they followed had bearing on what they accomplished. Whether it was a school of thought, influential individuals, certain habits or practices – these followings had a definite role in the outcome of the leader and thus contributed to what made them “great”.


While not all of us will be great leaders, we can still become better leaders by being more discerning in what we follow. What does this mean practically?

1. Be aware of what you follow.
Start with the recognition that we all follow something and then start to consciously think about what it is that you follow in your life? What people have played/are playing a significant role in your life? What kinds of things do you keep up on? What influences affect your decisions? What do you like to check with before going ahead with something? These questions and more will help you become aware of what it is you follow.

2. Determine what you are leading.
This is an exercise that is far too complex to reiterate in a single paragraph or two. However, to outline, before you can choose what you follow you have to know what you are leading (or want to lead). If you can’t figure this out then you aren’t really leading anything.

3. Choose what to follow according to your strengths.
Time is a precious commodity. Don’t follow things or people that have no relevance to what you are good (or better) at. The way you become a great leader in a certain area is by following people who are great leaders in that area. Become students of them. Read what they write, listen to what they say, observe what they do. The purpose of doing so is not so that you become a clone but so that you can grow in your ability. If you choose to follow things that you are weak in you’ll be wasting time.

[Disclaimer: This does not necessarily mean that you don’t follow what you don’t like…]

4. Reevaluate regularly.
At some point, you are going to have to reconsider the people and things you follow. The world changes and so do you. If you don’t re-evaluate what it is you follow on a regular basis then you run the risk of becoming stagnant in your growth as a leader.

5. Don’t expect greatness over night…in fact don’t expect it at all.
The thing about great leaders is that greatness isn’t what they aim for. They aim for greatness at what they do. If you aim to be a great leader for the simple reason that you want to be great – you’re not going to get there – especially if that’s something you think will happen quickly! Great leaders are consistent at their discernment in following great people and great things and eventually they become recognized as great leaders in their own right. Often, that “great leader” label comes years after the person has died because history recognizes their great accomplishments.

So instead of aiming to be a great leader, aim at being a great follower and work on doing great things.

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