It’s no secret that I am both passionate about leadership and appreciative of the opportunity to follow those who truly lead. I believe effective followership is the path to effective leadership. In fact, I would go so far as to say that one cannot effectively lead if they don’t know how to follow. However, the reverse is not true, as we need not to know how to lead in order to effectively follow.

Like so many aspects of life, the real magic happens at the intersection…the intersection of leadership and followership. Every leader has a senior to whom he reports and whom he follows. Every leader has a responsibility to both lead and follow, but what happens when a leader chooses to do little more than follow, to do what he is told and decides that his job is to task individuals in favor of leading his team?

The answer is simple, frustration. Of late, I have conversed with many valued junior leaders. Leaders who were previously encouraged to influence just about everything within and slightly beyond their reach, only to be reminded to “shut up and color.” Leaders who were once conditioned to be constructively critical and voice their concerns, only to be told to mind their own business and assimilate. It doesn’t take long for these leaders to begin ignoring their need to demonstrate personal initiative, to stop taking ownership of the outcome, and to plan their exit strategy in earnest. Unfortunately, this is where many of the leaders with whom I led in the past now find themselves.

A leader’s responsibility is not to merely follow their leader, nor is it to create more followers. It is to critically think about and creatively execute a path that will ultimately deliver the desired outcome, creating more leaders along the way. This is especially true in an organization like the military that has so much turnover. We are continually developing our relief. Many of us remain committed to developing leaders, unfortunately too many others, intentionally or not, are diminishing the very leaders we invested so much time developing and returning them to proper followership.

Some of us are able to take great pride in the leaders we have helped to develop and enjoy greater influence and opportunity within the same organization.  For example, in the Navy, a leader may boast about the number of proteges they have helped to become senior enlisted leaders, earn a commission, or develop into Commanding Officers. I aspire to be one of those people. Unfortunately, some of us will identify with a different metric. A metric that captures the number of leaders we have helped to develop who are then diminished by others across the organization, ultimately resulting in a search for another employer that truly values their unique contributions.

All leaders follow, good leaders truly lead, and great leaders (and followers) demand that their subordinates (and leaders) do far more than follow.  Unfortunately, too many people with leadership positions are doing little more than following, while true leaders are being asked merely to follow these so-called “leaders”.

  • What are you doing to ensure you are not diminishing the individuals on your team?
  • Are you giving the most valued members of your team reason to own outcomes, lead WITH you, and stay on your team?
  • It is said that people don’t quit organizations, they quit their leader.  Who is quitting because of you?