I just typed “leadership book” in the search bar on Amazon. I see there are at least 60,000 books I could purchase on this subject. I then just typed “follower book” and then “followership book”. Just over 10,000 results. Are you surprised? I’m not.
Here in the U.S., our culture places leaders on the pedestal. We flock to hear great leaders speak. Some of us purchase book after book to read what great leaders write. Podcasts abound from great leaders.
But what about being a great follower? Doesn’t that count for something? Shouldn’t it count? After all, every leader started as a follower.
“I bet we’d agree even the best leaders accomplish nothing without effective followers. If we agree followers are essential, why do so many people take being called a good follower as a criticism rather than as a compliment?” from Old School is Good School by Chief Master Sergeant Kevin Slater (U.S. Air Force).
A while ago, I was thinking about what it means to be a great follower. I have followed some great leaders. Cam taught me that there is always a way, an option, a solution – no matter what. That mindset has helped me more times in my life than I can count. From smuggling letters out of the former Soviet Union to helping my daughter with her history homework, I personally know that there is always a solution to big issues.
Chuck taught me that I can do anything I put my mind and my heart to. He gave me a shot in his company. I had zero experience, but he saw the potential. I learned and failed and kept on learning. I eventually took the job I had been given, whittled it from 40 hours/week to around 25-30 hours/week. I then was tasked to train my replacement who was given more responsibilities to fill that gap. Me? Oh, I was promoted to a management position.
Wayne taught me that anyone can conduct music. But a true conductor will get the most out of his musicians when he clearly communicates to pull from them their very best. I learned that it’s fun being a musician. But being a conductor allows you to create a musical experience and help others discover the beauty hidden beneath the notes and rests on the page.
None of these leaders coddled me in my developmental process. Far from it. They took me through what I now call the T.L.C. of being a great follower:
Think – Followers need to think, trouble-shoot, and solve problems. Most of the time, they are the closest to the action. You may not always get a “vote” in what goes on, but you certainly have a voice. Followers influence leaders!
Learn – Followers must learn new skills, learn how to communicate better with their teammates, learn what they are passionate about, and learn how their personal strengths add value to the team
Contribute – Followers must be active participants in their team’s/company’s success. There is no place for sideline observers on a winning team. Always look for ways to add value.
The leaders I named above expected this of me all the time. I’m glad they did. What I learned when I applied T.L.C. to my followership paved the path to my taking on leadership roles. I am forever grateful to these and other leaders who took me down this road.
Are you a follower? Great! Apply some T.L.C. to your journey. Who knows, perhaps you will soon be helping a follower under your leadership!
On my drive into work this morning, I heard the following:
“Flawed people can do great things.”
The speaker went on to share an example of King David from the Bible. David was an incredible king. He fought and won many battles. He strengthened his kingdom. He had passionate followers. Bible said that he was a “man after God’s own heart.”
But King David was also flawed. Too often, he took matters into his own hands. He had a wandering eye that led him to seduce a woman and then later had her husband killed in battle. David suffered because of his flaws. But he also did great things in spite of his flaws.
Today, I am grateful for grace that sees my flaws but still allows me to be effective. I cannot ignore my flaws and shortcomings (there are many). I must get better. I must build on my strengths. I cannot make excuses for my flaws. But I must work to do great things. My family is counting on me. My team is counting on me.
I am not disqualified. Neither are you.
I have invested a couple of wonderful days here in Denver at the NACCAP annual conference on the campus of Colorado Christian University. I have met admission leaders from all over North America. I’ve listened to their stories. I’ve helped brainstorm on obstacles they face. I’ve learned so much about their work, their passion, and their dedication to helping students earn a college/university education.
I spoke at 2 seminars yesterday. My topics were: “Adding Value” and “Understanding Your Influence through Self-Development”. My sessions were full, and the participants shared great feedback with me immediately afterwards and then at mealtimes (I intentionally sat with different groups of leaders at each meal).
I am humbled by the written feedback I received. Here’s just a sampling:
“very inspiring and passionate speaker who really cares about developing leaders…” Kelly M.
“he is an excellent, amazing, and engaging speaker.” Angie N.
“incredible, authentic, inspiring, applicable…thank you!” Rachel G.
“this was an unexpected topic at the conference…I’m glad I attended…great, helpful, and out-of-the-box information!” Anonymous
“So practical!” Tim S.
These leaders were hungry to learn and to grow. They are making significant impacts on the lives of future leaders. I am grateful to have been a small part of this conference and to have met such quality people.
I had the privilege of speaking with our branch managers last week on the topic of leadership influence. I want to share here part of that presentation.
John Maxwell defines leadership as “influence – nothing more, nothing less.” If this is true (it is, and I love this definition), then how do you build your influence? Influence must be earned. It will not be merely given to you.
Here are some of my thoughts on how you can build your influence with your team, coworkers, and your community:
- Help your team become better by becoming a better leader. What a great gift you give to your team when YOU work to become better! But how do you do that?
- Expose yourself to materials that will help you grow as a leader (books, blogs, podcasts, articles, conferences, one-on-one meetings). There is a seemingly unending mountain of information available to us all today. Use it! Read it! Listen to it! Immerse yourself in it! Grow yourself!
- Network in your community. Your community is full of effective leaders. Find them. Interact with them. Take them to lunch and ask them good questions that will help you understand what makes them the effective leaders they are.
- Add value to those around you everyday. We all have plenty of opportunities every day to add value to others. Leaders who are influential look for these opportunities. They add value intentionally.
What have you done to broaden your influence? Share your thoughts with us all in the Comments section!