Leaders are Followers

When I was just starting my leadership career nearly 10 years ago, I was blessed to have a conversation with a sage leader who became a mentor for me. 

One of the first questions he asked me was, “Who do you follow?” 

It seemed like such an odd question at a time when I was just getting into leadership. What do you mean, follow? 

And yet it was exactly the right question, and one I’ve asked a number of other new and old leaders since. “Who do you follow?” stuck with me as I journeyed through my years as a Principal and now as a Consultant. 

This question helped change my lens on the position of leadership. Sadly (I am admittedly embarrassed about this), before my mentor asked that question, I naively thought leaders created or inherited followers and spent their days managing them. Great leaders, from my perspective then, were the ones who could figure out how to do this really well over and over and over. And so, when I was asked this question it really challenged me to think differently. 

Followership matters – and here’s why:  

  1. It gives definition to the expressions of who you are as a leader. We never lead in a vacuum, and what we say and do is as much an indication of who we follow as it is to who we are. We’re shaped by those we follow.  
  2. Who you follow intrinsically forms your set of values you’re going to believe in and live day to day as a leader. There are so many values a leader can have and yours are shaped by who you follow.   
  3. Knowing who we follow helps us understand we’re not the creator of good leadership. Followership frames our ego in the far greater concept of humility. Knowing that our brilliance is just the reflection of the one we follow is an important fact all leaders must remember. 
  4. Being a follower gives you something tangible to look at as a definition of who you are. It puts words and language around what you believe. And as you grow in leadership you learn to define your decisions and actions through the reflection of who you follow.  

In a time when leadership is front and centre, when it seems that every leader, no matter the company, organization, political party or country, is standing in the COVID storm… we watch, knowing they are a reflection of who they follow. 


Who do you follow?