Three reasons to be a good follower


Last week I saw a man wearing a t-shirt that said “Never Follow, Always Lead” This could be the most ignorant statement I’ve ever heard, and it stands in stark contrast to this quote from Aristotle (according to the internet) “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.” Earlier in my life, I wasn’t exactly certain what this meant, but lately it’s gotten a lot clearer. And while this is just the tip of the iceberg, here are three reasons you need to be a good follower before you lead.

Followers learn how to give clear directions

Have you ever had someone give you instructions that weren’t clear?  Or that were crystal clear? If you never follow, you would be terrible at giving good directives. I catch myself all the time thinking ‘Is what I just said clear?” or “Does everyone know what to do as we exit this meeting?” I learned to think that way because I left meetings or conversations on both sides. Sometimes I knew exactly what I need to do, other times, not so much.

Followers learn how to be good team players

In organizations, even people who lead the team are usually still on the team. Meaning, they may be in charge, but they’re also trying to help accomplish the same goals and projects. If you only lead the team, but are never on the team, you’ll never be a good team player. Imagine if someone who had never played basketball, tried to coach basketball or be in charge on the court. Imagine if someone who had never played an instrument, tried to conduct the orchestra. To be a good leader, you need to be a good team player first.

Followers learn how to engage people

Watch the people around you interact. Notice when people disengage and why. Notice when they re-engage and why. If you are always leading the meeting or always up front, you’ll rarely have this opportunity because you are focused on getting through the content or moving things along. Really good leaders can do this in the moment, but you’ll never get there if you start there. 

Other people have written more on this topic. Here are a couple I suggest.

Andy Dykhouse