“A leader is a person that other people follow.”
So if that is true, as leaders, we should never think about having to follow others, right? Or, we should always take up the initiative in every situation, correct? No! In fact, I think there are many times that, despite having leadership gifts and abilities, we need to become a follower.
Not convinced? Here are my top 3 reasons why you, as a leader, need to learn when to be a follower.
1. Follow when you’re not the only one
Sometimes, there are just too many chefs in the kitchen, if you know what I mean. I’m sorry to break the news, but the truth is, you are not the only leader in the world. I am not the only leader in the world. As such, there will be situations where there is more than one or two leaders beside you. Just like an army cannot be composed of solely generals, you all cannot be THE leader or nothing will get done! When in a situation where everyone tries to be a leader, it can lead to nothing but confusion and fighting. Once, a few friends and I wanted to throw a surprise party for another friend. The initial leader was more of a spontaneous planner, whereas I am more of a type-A kind of planner. So, when the planning became a little stagnant, I tried to take up some of the lead. And then to top it off, someone else started to take some initiative as well! Talk about too many chefs! Who do we follow? Should I push harder or not? It was from there that I realized that despite having leadership abilities, I didn’t need to muck up the situation by being a leader every time! I backed off and tried to support the other two leaders, who actually started collaborating. The event turned out great, the friend was surprised and because I switched from trying to being a leader to being a follower, I went through it all with less stress and less scars. When you are able to back off from trying to take control, we are able to avoid fights and damage to relationships.
2. Follow when you are incompetent
Leaders come in different shapes and sizes. Some have charisma, others are meticulous planners, some lead by example, and some are known for their hard work. The list can go on and on! One characteristic that most leaders have is a desire to do everything themselves. There is a mentality of “I need show that I know everything or can do everything if people are to accept me as a leader.” My friend, these will only lead to burnout. We need to learn to follow so that we don’t die. We need to realize and recognize that we are incompetent in some areas. As a result, find people who are talented in those areas and let them take off with it. Also, by delegating responsibilities to you, this not only empowers others, but it also allows you to deal with the important issues. For example, I have had the great opportunity to be the youth director for a summer family conference for the past 3 years. I found that I function best when I’m not running around doing everything and having to think through everything for everything! I could lead worship, but there are definitely better worship leaders than me. As a result, I delegated out responsibilities for the worship team to someone with experience. The same went for computer/media related activities, for the handbook and more. In those areas that I delegated, I became the “follower” and let the individuals lead in their areas. I would then ask how I could in turn help them out where needed. I became less stressed and every area of the youth program improved as a result. When we allow “experts” to lead in their areas of expertise, we accrue less stress and great results.
3. Follow when you need to grow
The worst leaders are the out of touch leaders. This is the leader who berate his followers for not meeting all his demands, who creates impossible deadlines or whose relationship skills are on par with that of a rat, slowly wearing down his followers. When you, as a leader, have the chance to follow another leader, you get the incredible opportunity to see leadership from everyone else’s perspective. You get to see what really works and what doesn’t. You get to see what people really think when a leader ask them to do something that he himself would never do. You get to see what really motivates people and what turns people off. When I first came into college, I felt like I both had leadership abilities and readiness to be a leader. However, I purposely did not demand leadership positions because 1) you don’t do that as a freshman (everyone knows that!) and 2) I realized how much I could learn by following the current leaders at the time (PC, Amanda, PJ/Sandy, Kevin, etc). I learned from them how to lead a meeting, how to delegate to others, how to build relationships as a leader, how to be authentic, etc. When we get to follow someone else, we have the great opportunity to better learn how to lead.
Following can be such an antithesis to leaders. We don’t want to seem weak, we don’t want to trust others with certain responsibilities and we don’t want to give up control and power. However, no one wants to follow someone who is fake, or distrustful or a powermonger. We can all become better leaders by learning when to follow…