avatarGeorge J. Ziogas


Exploring the Relationship Between Followers and Leaders

Understanding the dynamics of followers versus leaders

© Photocreo Bednarek / Adobe Stock

If we’re going to talk cogently about leaders and followers, we need to get clarity on our terminology. A leader is someone who goes above and beyond for the betterment of their enterprise while supporting other people.

The fundamental tool of leadership is the inspiration of other people through one’s own example. A leader isn’t necessarily someone in a leadership role. They’re not always a high-ranking official set in authority over others.

A leader isn’t always the person in charge. Leadership isn’t about power granted by authority or position. It’s about the ability to positively motivate others to excel beyond their own imagined limits.

Qualities of leaders include:

  • Intellectual curiosity. Leaders are infectiously curious and enthusiastic. Followers tend to focus only on the component of tasks and don’t go beyond that.
  • Courage to try new things and ways to accomplish more.
  • Courage to fail. This kind of courage underlies one of the most significant differences between leaders and followers. Followers value the avoidance of failure, not risks. Leaders find value in the lessons from failure.
  • Desire to do more and go above-and-beyond the limits of their stated role. Followers only do what’s within their job description and don’t seek more.
  • Broad focus. This is a tricky one. Leaders tend to be good with details. The idea that there are “big-picture” people and “detail-oriented” people is a bit too much of a binary dichotomy. Helping the nuts-and-bolts support the big picture is a leadership trait.
  • The ability to go back and forth from a structured, traditional approach to problem-solving and a protean approach. A protean approach unifies disparate elements that are easily at hand to deliver a superior outcome. Leaders don’t need to be told to “think outside the box” because they rarely see the box at all and even less often are bound by it.
  • Optimism. It might be a guarded optimism, but nonetheless, pessimism is never the trait of a leader.
  • A leader’s enthusiasm is based on possibilities that lift the enterprise.

There’s no insult or shame in being a follower, although the corporate world seems to think there is, given the emphasis on leadership, even in situations that actively discourage innovation from the rank-and-file employees. Although followers stick to their roles and do their jobs without going above or beyond what’s necessary to stay employed, sometimes corporate culture values that trait.

In fact, there are many employment situations where the growth of leadership is hindered. Sometimes people in charge actively discourage employees from going above and beyond the remit of their job description. Although there’s a great deal of verbiage and a glut of pop management fads that blather endlessly about leadership, all too often the people in corporations with authority don’t encourage their employees to really be leaders.

Hierarchical employment structural systems are part and parcel of the world’s most powerful, richest nations. These systems have inadvertently led to the rise of entrepreneur culture. The opportunity to employ the characteristics of leadership like curiosity, a drive to improve, to be better, to achieve more is well-rewarded for the aspiring entrepreneur.

Many major corporations are now driven by leadership culture, which permeates the entire corporation at all levels. Wildly successful enterprises are quick to give company-wide leadership a lot of credit for breaking out of the lock-step work models that are letting go in many countries.

Essentially, being a leader involves great personal, psychological and emotional investment in constant improvement. Being a leader in and of itself entails more risk than being a follower, and the rewards are likewise greater.

Recommended from ReadMedium