Leaders Follow – Followers Lead: The Critical Relationship

Leaders Follow – Followers Lead: The Critical Relationship

Highly effective organizations have cultures that recognize the innate and critical relationship between the leadership and their staff or teams.  These organizations see the importance of workforce development and the tremendous potential of their people.  The future leaders are in front of them, laboring, working, and producing where they themselves once were.

The image of the iconic leader marshaling forces to a great cause, military or civilian, corporate or government, community leader or private citizen, can evoke common images.  We see great men and women possessing persuasive vision, outsized charisma, tireless commitment, and a steely confidence directing tremendous outcomes and exemplifying the title of leader.

But the other central part of that imagery is the equally iconic body of noble doers, the teams and staff that “get it done” and become part of something bigger than themselves.  They are the hard working and talented many who make things happen and satisfy the vision – Rosy the Riveter, is a famous example from an era of historic teamwork.  A time of big leadership and equally big followership.  That’s how big things got done.

The fact is, everyone works for someone.  The leadership in any organization started somewhere and that somewhere was very likely much lower in the workforce than the Board Room, the Wardroom, or the “corner office”.  They were at one time the doers.

Beyond that, most leaders, if not all, are also followers in their present positions.  Nimble leaders are equally effective at marshalling the action to advance the vision as they are in meeting the expectations of their boss and working to make that person successful.   Leaders do indeed follow, and conversely followers do lead.

The resonant importance of this workplace dynamic is that the skills and traits to be an effective leader are typically developed when “learning the ropes” in the workforce.  Said another way, the apprentice becomes the master and then lends direction and support to the future masters.  Healthy organizations recognize the uniquely valuable relationship between the leadership-followership roles and reward those who get it right on both sides of that equation.

The most effective leaders were very likely the most effective followers.  Certainly there are exceptions, but the ascension to leadership roles in any organization or profession is commonly found in “working your way up” – it is nearly a given in organizations of all types, large and small.  Admittedly, you can “hire for talent”, as senior positions are frequently filled from the marketplace, but the most compelling leadership candidates will have experience, and not just as an executive.

Leaders and followers should be consciously working for mutual success.  The subordinate, by definition, must be committed to the progress of their boss and organization, while the leader can only succeed by ensuring that subordinates are empowered and able to make effective contributions.

One important step to fortifying sound workforce management principles is acknowledging that the skills and traits that make a good follower overlap with the list of key leadership attributes.  Hard work, discipline, dedication, curiosity, focus, passion, integrity, courage, and loyalty comprise a short list of desirable traits that can, and should, be fostered in both leaders and followers.

This is a significant consideration to remember as you lead your team or organization – and report to your boss.

Steve Wischmann


Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC

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