Many times people may think leaders have it easy, or that they do their own thing and are accountable to no one. Other times people may think leaders started being leaders and were also born leaders. But that is not the case. Being a leader is a serious responsibility and it’s not easy. Also, most leaders start as followers and have worked hard to be where they are today—even if they had the gift of leadership in them from the start. In fact, successful leaders are excellent followers themselves. Being a good follower is precisely what gives great leaders the foundation to be an example of integrity, honesty, and many of the other traits that we all admire in successful leaders. Below are some key traits of successful followers:
They need a teacher—a leader. Followers need to follow someone they trust and believe in—someone who is worthy of being followed.
Followers don’t doubt their leader. They have complete faith that their leader has his or her best interest at heart. They don’t fear that their leader is out to get them.
Good followers get to know their leader at the personal level. They understand their leader is also human and that they have a need for personal relationships too.
Good followers learn to appreciate their leaders for who they are. They are not “apple polishers.” They sincerely care for their leader.
Followers gather together to support their common leader. They don’t talk behind his or her back and they are loyal to their leader.
Good followers “do” what their leader tells them to do. They don’t second guess or question their leader each time he or she asks them to do something. In the business arena, of course, it is acceptable to ask questions to clarify direction and to bring your opinion but in the end, good followers learn to do what is asked of them unless it’s something illegal or unethical.
A good leader influences his or her followers and the followers allow themselves to be influenced. It’s a mutual relationship based on trust, something that is not common in the workplace these days.
Leaders give authority to their followers without fear that they will misuse that authority. Again, this exercise of giving authority to others is based on trust. Good followers accept that authority and use it wisely.
Followers admire and look up to their leader. They want to and aspire to be like their leader. They are proud of their leader and not ashamed. They want to imitate their leader and become more like him or her.
Successful followers receive instructions from their leader and work together to accomplish their common mission (or the vision of their company). They learn to use their various strengths as a team and get it done.
Now, let’s examine some of the traits we admire—and even expect—of successful leaders:
Leaders have the innate ability to influence others—at the core, that’s what leadership is about. Even though not everyone is born with the leadership gift or ability, every person who is in a leadership position can learn to be an amazing and influential leader.
Leaders continually strive to be balanced. Leaders understand the importance to live a balanced life. This doesn’t mean they don’t understand the responsibilities of their work life and don’t work enough. It means they also understand that if they are not taking care of themselves (their bodies, their physical well-being) and their family relationships, their level of influence at work will be diminished over time.
Leaders are learners. Most successful leaders are life-long learner individuals. They have a hunger for knowledge and enjoy the journey of learning. They also love to teach what they just learned.
Leaders have a good attitude toward life, which is manifested in their attitude and behavior at work and at home. We all know we cannot control circumstances but we can control our attitude. That I know because I have had to practice self-control and change my attitude many times when circumstances were negative around me. I know it can be done and you are the full beneficiary of the change in your attitude.
Leaders are hard workers. Regardless of the career they choose, leaders work hard. This doesn’t mean they work 90 – 100 hours a week, which some people do. That is almost irresponsible because they neglect their physical health, their relationships, and eventually it affects their effectiveness at work. They burn out. What this means is that they utilize their time wisely and have learned to manage their time successfully based on their values.
They focus their time on what’s most important—consistently. The key here is that they learned to say “no” to the things that clutter their lives with no significant impact or influence. And they say “yes” to the things that matter.
Most leaders are also followers. If you are a leader, choose to also be a good follower. Only then, will you become a true influential person. Only then, will you leave a legacy of goodwill in the lives of all the people you touch along the way. Therefore, choose carefully who you follow and choose to be the best leader you were meant to be.
As business professionals, we have the great opportunity to be an example of being a good follower and then influence others as leaders. Take the responsibility of doing both seriously.