learn to lead by following

Three Words Few Talk About In Leadership, Part 1

November 20, 2019
Three words that are seldom spoken about in leadership studies, conferences, and blogs are:

Followers,

Fitness, and

Forgiveness

I’d like to address each one and briefly demonstrate their importance and essential requirements to biblical servant leadership. I’ll start in this blog with followers. 

Following is hard for me. My personality (Enneagram 3; D-C) pushes me to achievement sometimes without a perceived need for others. I will follow a guide up a mountain I have never climbed for mainly personal safety reasons, and I will follow a mentor who has filled the position I have never filled for the same reasons…until I convince myself, “I’ve got this.” Then I press on relying on my experience, skills, and talents to pull off what needs to be done to reach a goal or meet a need. 

However, I have learned through the pain of failed individual endeavors with few guides the importance and essential requirement of followers. Here are some things I’ve learned about followers:

  • Followers have the final say in whom he or she will follow and ultimately who is the leader.
  • Followers have talent, experience, and insights the leader most often does not.
  • Followers have a narrower focus of responsibility than the leader in which they can excel. 
  • Followers can leave in most cases without much disruption to the organization, giving them to freedom to pursue their interests above those proposed by the leader. 
  • Quality followers possess leverage points with the leader; and they use them. 
  • Followers have the power to make or break a leader. 
  • Followers can be catalysts for enthusiasm among fellow followers. The opposite is also true.
  • Trust is the relational glue that holds leaders and followers together.
  • “Followers do not do followership, they do leadership. Both leaders and followers form one relationship that is leadership.” Joseph Rost, Leadership for the 21st Century 

Followers are not a means for the leader to succeed. To lead without serving those with whom you lead is to misunderstand leadership. Biblical servant leadership calls for the leader not to serve followers for the sake of the leader’s success or the accomplishment of a goal, but out of genuine care and love for those he or she leads. 

Upon my examination of Jesus’ leadership of his disciples, I found that his intentional interest was not in the multitudes but in the twelve he chose to follow him. Jesus served the needs of the multitudes, but he equipped in the twelve. Jesus as the Good Shepherd loved, cared for, and taught those he apprenticed to follow him. Those Jesus chose to lead the Mission of God on earth upon his ascension were first followers, disciples, learners from the one who called them on mission. They learned to lead by following.

I have written that “servant leaders follow Jesus rather than seek a position” based upon Jesus instructing James and John that to follow him was more important in the things of God than seeking a position of leadership—even in his kingdom. 

We who seek to lead like Jesus must not overlook our call to serve and not to be served. Followers lead with us, and their care, equipped state, and shared trust are a biblical servant leader’s first priority. 

For Reflection:

  1. What have you learned about followers by either being a leader or a follower? Make your own list of lessons learned. 
  2. If you are in a leadership position, write down (and then throw away) how you truly see followers. 
  3. If you are a follower in an organization or ministry, what advantages to you see from where you are as a follower rather than a leader?

  

Next Month: Fitness for Leadership

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