From workplaces to business schools, all anyone can talk about is leaders.
No wonder people are brawling for that fancy leadership roles, no wonder no one wants to be a follower and no wonder people have forgotten what the true meaning of leadership is.
Let’s say you created a new team for a new assignment without appointing a leader.
I am more than sure that there will be a mini-power struggle as everyone will be trying to self-appoint themselves as leaders.
Consequently, everyone is more focused on how to dominate/win over others, than on the task itself.
When did leadership become all about power and less about responsibility?
I get it, we all want to be CEOs or CFOs or presidents one day, but in the process of pursuing our leadership goals, we are forgetting that to be a great leader, you must be a great follower first.
I often say this to my friends and my mentees – a great leader is someone who knows when to step back and is someone who is not attached to the title and gives it up if need be.
Here’s the bottom line – if you think you can make an excellent follower, then you must keep at it.
Why? Because you have a better chance of becoming a good – scratch that – a great leader than those who resort to dominance and power plays.
You also need to understand that, in today’s world no one is just a leader or just a follower, most of us are both and that is all the more reason why we should learn to be great followers.
At Hiver, for example, we circulate the leadership among our employees i.e if an employee comes up with a great idea, we make him in charge and we all follow him/her including the CEO and co-founders.
I think this is a great way to develop followers who are great leaders or leaders who are great followers. Both will work!
Here are some things being a great follower can teach you, that will eventually make you an incredible leader.
Learning from and rectifying mistakes
I hope you agree with me when I say learning from mistakes is the most credible way to learn.
Leaders don’t have that luxury. Every decision they make is expected to be right, even a 99% accuracy rate is considered low.
But how to get to that almost 100% accuracy in decision making? By being a genius? No! By giving yourself time to learn, by letting yourself be a follower before becoming a leader.
- Get second chances to rectify their mistakes.
- They can find mentors to help them learn from their mistakes and to avoid them.
- Their decisions are not under a magnifying glass, unlike those of a leader.
What is boils down to: Good followers are better equipped to step into the shoes of a leader.
A quality that a great leader and a great follower have in common. A quality that differentiates a leader from a tyrant.
A quality that can come only through experience one develops by being a team player.
To be a good team player and a follower, effective communication is a must.
As opposed to what most people say, effective communication is more about listening than about talking.
This will help you develop the discipline to listen first and then speak, a rare quality I might add and this discipline you learn as a follower helps you practice better leadership as you don’t have to force yourself to listen to people, but instead you can listen to them with genuine attention and concern.
Keep in mind that a good listener in the business world:
- Practices active listening.
- Listens to unpleasant truths with an open mind.
- Welcomes alternate opinions instead of thrusting their opinions.
These are the very same traits that made leaders like Abraham Lincoln and John.F.kennedy awe-inspiring to the people and their followers.
Followers are now being renamed as collaborators and influencers on the internet, and I agree.
Being a committed follower gives you the chance to understand how to collaborate with the team and to develop the art of bringing out the best in the people.
This is not something a leader who was born into a leadership role can understand easily.
This ability is unique to leaders who made great followers in their past.
Being a follower, gives them a chance to understand the good and the bad team dynamics that can make or break a productive team.
Today a leader is measured not just by his achievements, but also by the quality of team/organization they built.
The ability to think clearly even in situations where all hell is loose is a very very necessary quality for a leader.
What I think is – the best way to master the art of thinking clearly is by developing the confidence and building the knowledge of an experienced problem solver.
While a leader doesn’t get to work on tactical problems, a follower/team player has the opportunity to tackle problems in various areas like technical, functional, and operational fields.
Others might call these petty tasks, but I think they are practice to improve yourself and the experience will help you come up with a more efficient solution when you are in a more important decision-making role.
Develop emotional intelligence
As a follower, you will be privy to many thoughts and opinions of your teammates, which a leader is not privy too. This will help you develop emotional intelligence.
For example, a follower will know what decisions made by your leader hurt your team members, or made them anxious, or made them happy, or made them productive.
These are some great lessons to be able to learn and carry forward when you are playing the boss.
Daniel Goleman says that ‘In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels’, and that “people’s emotions are rarely put into words, far more often they are expressed through other cues. The key to intuiting another’s feelings is in the ability to read nonverbal channels, tone of voice, gesture, facial expression, and the like”
The ability to understand and manage others’ emotions is a key ingredient for an effective leadership and requires a lot of learning.
Now as the follower, you have a better opportunity to understand and develop EQ, which you can put to use when you hold a leadership position.
So finally here is my tip for you, probably a very very counter-intuitive tip but I hope have justified it enough:
Don’t aim to be a leader, not at first; aim to be the best of best followers and you will be enroute to becoming an incredible leader.