Why You Can’t Lead if You Can’t Follow

Many leaders believe that “effective” leadership is “strong” leadership, meaning that a good leader must be bold, independent, and willing to defy the expectations of others. There is truth in that, but this way of thinking often produces arrogance, insubordination, and an unwillingness to lead within the context of an organization.

That’s why every leader must first learn to be a follower.

Followership is not blind acceptance nor is it a sign of personal weakness. Rather, followership is an important character trait for any person who hopes to be effective in leading others.

I’ve encountered more than my share of leaders who believed they had all the answers, refused to accept direction, and gathered a group around them who believed in their ultimate authority. Too often, their careers ended in defeat.

Every leader needs accountability and humility to keep the ego in check. A good leader must be a good follower.

Here are four reasons every leader must first learn to follow.

  1. Everyone Is Accountable to Someone

Everyone is accountable, to constituents, higher authorities, and, ultimately, to God. Those who are unwilling to recognize their subordination within their leadership context soon become dictatorial.

  1. Leaders Needs Mentors

People who are unwilling to learn are unfit to be leaders. And the basic requirement for learning is to adopt an attitude of humility and openness. To lead effectively, you must be willing to admit that you don’t have all the answers—and be willing to follow those who do.

  1. The Ego Is Always A Challenge

It has been said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Every leader, no matter how powerful or independent, must follow laws, company policies, and ethical and moral standards. Leaders who place themselves above such things are headed for disaster.

  1. Nobody Is That Good

Leaders who bristle at taking advice, direction, or correction from others are really saying that they know best—about everything. They’re wrong. Nobody is that good. Every leader needs the direction—and sometimes correction—of others.

Jesus taught us that the first will be last and the last first. It seems ironic, but it is true. And it is also true that a good leader must first become a good follower. Learn to follow the leader, and you will lead others.

In what ways have you observed great leaders being good followers? Share your answer on Twitter or Facebook!