Things I’ve doubted – You have to be a follower to be a leader

Most of my life, I’ve been skeptical of the idea that to be a leader, you first have to learn to be a follower. Leaders are leaders, followers are followers, and neither personality type will ever cross over to become like the other, I thought.

I’ve been rethinking that notion lately, for two reasons. First, I’ve come to believe that followers can learn to be leaders. If someone believes in a cause strongly enough, and wants to make change happen (or fight against unwanted change), that person can learn the skills needed to rally others to action. Moreover, he or she can develop a style that is a natural fit for his or her personality.

I’ve also come to see that effective leaders are followers of ideas and principles bigger than themselves. They really care about improving the lives of others, or protecting those who need protection, or making sure we don’t lose important resources through abuse and mismanagement. Once they stop following such principles, once their quest becomes all about them instead of all about the cause, it’s not long before they stumble and fall.

Effective leaders also look for mentors and coaches who help them improve themselves. By definition, they follow their mentors and coaches.

So, I’ve come to accept the idea that good leaders are followers as well. What do you think?

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