Executive Development Blog

To Be a Good Leader, First Be a Good Follower

Posted by UNC Executive Development on Oct 18, 2016 3:30:49 PM


The Mark Zuckerberg’s of this world—corporate leaders propelled into their positions because of what they created—are few and far between. Most leaders start in much humbler, entry-level positions and work their way up the corporate ladder, and this is a good thing. Emerging leaders who work their way up learn about what motivates them and their co-workers. They also learn about what makes a team work well together to achieve goals. They also learn what good—and not so good—leadership is, and this allows them to develop empathy and compassion for those they will one day lead. In essence, they learn key “followership” lessons that will serve them well when they become leaders.

5_tips_leaders.jpgAccording to Barbara Kellerman, a leadership lecturer at Harvard University, there is a lot a person can learn about being a good leader by being a good follower. Good followers, she says, are passionately committed and deeply involved. They actively support a good leader (one who is effective and ethical). Bad followers, on the other hand, do nothing to contribute to the group or the organization.

Good followers learn to “read” their colleagues, co-workers, customers, and other audiences. They understand what motivates them and what upsets them, skills that they can use when they become leaders. Good followers also learn important diplomacy skills, like the ability to get along well with others while not ignoring differences—for example, working well with a colleague who has different political beliefs. Good followers also need to learn to be courageous. Kellerman notes that good followers can aid the leader when he or she is doing the right thing—but they also have to have the courage to stand up to the leader if he or she is doing something wrong (Moran, 2014).

Good followers also learn important collaboration skills that will serve them well as leaders. Good followers and good leaders understand that followers (good and bad) can make or break a leader by influencing how and what goals get achieved. Good followers will assist their leaders in achieving goals. Bad followers can actively sabotage the achievement of goals (Moran, 2014). Good followers also learn to think for themselves and will stand up to a leader who may be heading in the wrong direction (Moran, 2014).

Being a good follower does not end when one becomes a leader. It is important that emerging leaders understand that they must continue to practice good followership in their leadership roles; they become good followership leaders. During a keynote speech in 2012, former HP executive vice president Vyomesh Joshi said the key to being a great leader was to practice good followership. In other words, leaders who have been good followers and who practice good followership principles as leaders understand how to work with people to bring out the best in them.

The above is taken from our white paper titled Five Tips to Inspire First-Time Leaders.  Download the full paper below.

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