The most difficult instrument to play in the orchestra is second fiddle.
— Leonard Bernstein
I read a story once of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question that asked, “Are you a good leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application expecting the worst.
To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application reveals that this year our college will have 1,420 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it imperative that they have at least one follower.”
I suppose being a follower runs counterintuitive to being a good leader. But I submit that good followership is good leadership. They are not mutually exclusive.
So what does good followership look like and why is it important? In his book, Creative Followership, Jimmy Collins says, “If you’re not selling chicken, you better be supporting someone who is.” Understanding the value of good followership can add tremendous value to any organization. Here are three ways how.
Followership drives the vision
Simply put, good followership is the fuel that drives the mission and vision of your organization. Taken in its proper context, followership is not abdicating your position within your organizational structure. If anything, it’s empowering it. Rather than relying on a title to move you forward off the backs of those around you, being a good follower is getting behind the best ideas and everyone working toward shared goals.
When the vision is clear and buy-in has taken place, then somehow positional leadership loses its appeal. Rather than turf wars and politics being your driving force, you can purposefully pursue your vision and where you are in the pecking order becomes secondary.
The leader who knows how to follow will outlast the leader who only wants to lead the parade.
Followership builds teamwork
A team is only as strong as the collective effort of its team members. So long as everyone on the team only wants to be the captain and call the plays, you will never make the advancements you desire to achieve. Babe Ruth summed it up nicely when he said,
“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the team won’t be worth a dime.” And this is the essence of teamwork.
The myth that needs to be dispelled here is that you never lead when you are a follower. Within your organization, there will be times when your role is that of being a good follower. Other times, you’ll be the point person on a certain project. The point being, you are not just a follower, or just a manager or supervisor. When you work as a team you play to your strengths and everyone adapts to seize the momentum you need at the
Being a good follower on your team is allowing everyone to play to their strengths and everyone doing whatever it takes for the win. Knowing how to follow makes the difference.
Followership builds the future
The success of your organization relies upon leaders being able to embrace being a good follower. You will never rise above your ability to serve. If serving and following is beneath you then leadership is beyond you. Your future as a leader and the future of your organization rests upon people being comfortable in their own skin and embracing roles that don’t necessarily embody their title or rank.
When you learn to set aside your own agenda for the good of the team and embrace a followership attitude, you will build a future that you can be proud of..
How about you? Are you a good follower? What issues do you need to work on in order to be a good follower? In a world where everyone competes to be the leader “in charge,” how refreshing it would be to look around and find more followers.