“To be a good leader, at some point you have to be a good follower.”
“Are you a leader or a follower?” I can’t keep count of how many times I heard that when I was growing up. But when adults ask that question, I don’t think they want an answer. As a teenager, I heard it from my pastor, parents, friends and other caring individuals. A subtle principle was communicated through that question: “be a leader not a follower!”
But if everyone is leading, then who is following? I have never heard anyone confess, “I am just a follower. Leadership is just not for me.” Especially in our current recognition-hungry society, we all want to lead. Soceity says that we need to be individuals, everything goes, it doesn’t matter as long as you are leading your “own” way. So much has been written on leadership, but very little has been written on following. You know, the art and skill of being a great follower. There are no articles, books, blogs or interviews on the subject. Nada. Nothing.Zip. Zero. Following even sounds weird. Go ahead and say I am a follower out loud several times. It doesn’t even sound right! Now say leadership. That sounds powerful. Following sounds weak.
“Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”
– 1 Corinthians 11:1
The best leaders have mastered the art of following, and that is why people are drawn to them. Following does not mean going with the flow and doing what everyone else is doing. Following means intentionally watching, learning from and imitating others. You observe those who are walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, who live with humility and courage, who exhibit integrity and compassion, who make wise decisions, and then you choose to follow in their footsteps. Humilty says, I need help and will submit to being discipled. Paul, as he followed the example of Jesus, urged other believers to imitate him.
You don’t follow others based on title or position but example and influence. Those you imitate will not share about all the people who follow them; instead, they’ll tell of the people they follow, the lessons they’ve learned and which path to take. This is the way I prefer to grow and have influence.
Following starts with humility. Followers admit they don’t know it all, and they can learn from others. They are humble. They have a thirst to grow and get better. They don’t need the glory or recognition; instead they pass on the praise to those around them. They are in pursuit of growing in humilty and maturity.
Following grows with serving. If being a great leader means being a great follower, then what is the secret to being a great follower? It’s being a servant. Followers have a willingness to serve others in sacrificial, humbling ways. A leader is someone who follows Christ’s example of serving. I have to say, serving is my very heartbeat. Servanthood can impact 1 life and change a city. All it takes is starting with serving the 1.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
– Mark 10:45
Following is perfected with Jesus. Jesus was the ultimate follower. He followed the voice and will of His Father. He served and sacrificed. He gave up His glory for our ultimate good. He didn’t seek the spotlight or the position of power. Instead, he walked with humility and compassion. He served to give, not get. God calls us to follow Him first and to follow Him daily. As we follow Him and listen to His voice we will be promoted to a place of leadership and influence.
“Then he said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.’” – Luke 9:23-24