Leader or follower, does it matter?

Leader or follower, my confession

When I began this blog, close to a year ago, I wrote an article about leading or being led, essentially asking: leader or follower? This piece was a call to action; to be a leader or ‘fear’ having someone lead you. I have now come to recognise how naive this argument was.

My current PhD project includes writing a book chapter on authentic followership. And no, I wasn’t talking about Instagram followers or Twitter followers. The more I read, the more I noticed leadership researchers ignoring the majority of the room. A leader is typically one among many, and that many aren’t even a part of the equation. Except, they should be.

“The world is moved not only by the mighty shoves of heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” – Helen Keller.

The importance of following

A good follower isn’t a person who sits on the sidelines and adds nothing new. They are active participants in organisations. They contribute to the positive climate within their group. Whilst so much research looks at the leader, more ought to consider the follower.

The place of the follower is beside a leader, not beneath them. Their input as the leader’s right-hand man or go-to-gal is crucial to keep balances and checks. They provide advice when the leader loses their way, and follows the directives where it’s applicable. To assume a follower is always passive and obedient is to consider them little more than an organisational cog.

Followership is about being actively engaged in the workplace, but also about taking on responsibilities that are delegated too.

What’s the difference?

The bigger challenge we have to think about, is what we do when a person steps down or away from their leadership role. Are they no longer a leader? We may be the captain of our sports team (leader) and a subordinate at work (follower). In fact, even as leaders, we spend an enormous amount of time as a follower. We follow the directives of others regularly, and it doesn’t make us less human because we do so.

So, in actual fact, there isn’t always a difference between a leader and follower; except for circumstance. There are exceptions to these rules, and some followers may not be leaders. But a good leader is always capable of being a follower where required.

*Image by DM.