In different situations, at different times, we are all followers or leaders. The best way to learn to lead is to work closely with a capable leader. But whether or not the leader is a positive role model, to the degree we are courageous followers we prepare ourselves to be courageous leaders.
Even as we follow, we often are simultaneously expected to lead others in a chain of authority. The dual role of follower and leader gives us ample opportunity to learn to perform better in both roles. It is an art to move fluidly between these roles and remain consistent in our treatment of others.
By staying aware of our reactions to those we follow, we learn to be more sensitive to our effect on those we lead.
By staying aware of our reactions to those we lead, we learn to be more sensitive in our efforts to support those we follow.
By modeling good leadership with our own followers, we can often influence our leaders. They observe us in our roles and borrow from our successes as we do from theirs. If we cannot influence our leader, we can transform even a miserable relationship into a rich learning opportunity if we use it to learn what demotivates followers and commit to not repeating these mistakes ourselves.
To effectively support a leader we often need to create our own support, our own group to execute that part of the mission with which we are entrusted. There is a danger we will be perceived as empire building if the team we create is especially strong. While leaders value our creating top-notch operations, they may also feel threatened by it. Our intention is of the essence. If we are genuinely serving the organization and its stakeholders, we won’t use our strength to thwart the leader’s initiatives or jockey for the leader’s position. Our team will know they serve the common purpose, not us.
In the dance of leaders and followers we change partners and roles throughout our lives. With each new partner we must subtly adjust our movements and avoid the others’ toes. If we are leading we must lead and if we are not we must follow, but always as a strong partner. We constantly learn from each other and improve our gracefulness in a wide diversity of styles and tempos.