There is no leadership apart from followership.
For leadership to maintain the highest integrity, it must recognize the reciprocal process shared by both leaders and followers. The highest integrity means that the leader’s actions have resulted in the people’s (followers) greatest good.
Even the best teams can experience a real leadership / followership tension in a day-to-day ministry leadership environment.
It looks like this:
- We value leaders
- We hire leaders
- We grow leaders
Then ask, what do leaders do? They lead. Who do leaders lead? Those who are willing to follow for the sake of the vision.
Plainly put, in a room full of leaders, who follows?
It’s easy to say we all do both, but let’s at least acknowledge the tension for a minute.
The moments of tension are experienced in areas like:
- The direction we take
- The resources we allocate
- The decisions we make (and who makes them)
- The relationships we share
And we all know these kinds of things are more art than science. They are more subjective than objective.
Nearly every leader prefers to lead over follow, and that creates moments of tension. Mutual voluntary submission is a major part of the solution. We submit to each other, under Christ, for the sake of the mission.
Mutual voluntary submission amongst leaders involves humility, unity and a common commitment to the vision. Organizational authority is recognized, but the progress of the mission, for the good of the people, takes priority.
Most leaders would rather lead, but in a unified effort toward the vision, we realize that together:
- We can accomplish something greater and be part of something bigger.
- We can grow and become stronger disciples and better leaders.
- We become willing to embrace greater purpose over greater power.
Everyone has power, even two-year olds.
A two-year old demonstrates their power by letting you know they are mad. How? By crying or even screaming. They haven’t yet matured to understand the give and take of sharing or not being the center of attention.
When our granddaughter Anza was nearly two years old, she was on a hike with mom and dad. It was a long strenuous hike so Anza was in a backpack on Jacob’s shoulders. But she was way done with the backpack and desperately wanted her freedom. So with loud protest Anza let mom and dad know in no uncertain terms she wanted out!!! She was exercising her power. Anza could have what she wanted, but she had to follow, (submit), which meant to hold hands with either mom or dad on the hike to get her freedom from the backpack.
That’s starting to sound more like an adult world. We have to surrender our power to experience something bigger, better and more significant. (The greater mission and the greater good.)
5 Truths About Following:
1) Following involves a choice
No one is forced to follow. Followership is a choice. That’s part of the beauty and power of our willingness to follow those who lead us.
When a volunteer says yes to you, they choose to follow. And remember, they can say “no” at any time. The yes remains a choice.
Another example, when you say yes to a job, you choose to follow. When I joined the 12Stone staff 21 years ago, I chose to follow Kevin Myers. And it was a very good choice. Here’s a true principle, the more you are willing to follow, the more you are trusted to lead.
Followership is not only an action, it’s also an attitude. Good leaders don’t say yes with a heart that secretly resists following.
If you no longer want to follow, something has changed, and you need to figure out why.
2) Following assumes a disciple’s posture
A great way to think about followership as a Christian leader starts here: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”Luke 9:23
- A disciple is a learner. Leaders are first disciples, and we learn from Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and others who teach us and impart wisdom. A good leader embraces the disposition to submit, learn, change and grow.
- A disciple is a follower. We follow Jesus. If we struggle to follow our earthly leaders it is likely that we struggle to follow God as well.
I’m not inferring that you should follow a terrible leader, one that has no interest in your welfare. But in the same case, it’s not your job to “fix” your leader. If its truly an unworkable or unhealthy situation, and you have prayed and sought wise counsel, perhaps it’s time to make a change.
A disciple is a learner. Leaders are first disciples, and we learn from Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and others who teach us and impart wisdom. A good leader embraces the disposition to submit, learn, change and grow. Click & Tweet!
3) Following champions better teamwork over protecting territory
One of the practical things healthy teams understand is that resources are limited. Time, money and people, in the moment, are limited. Getting all you can get for you is not the way to achieve the greatest win for the team.
I’m always amazed each time a storm blows into Atlanta, the grocery stores immediately empty of milk, bread, water and toilet paper. Rather than getting a little extra, it’s time to load up the SUV. This leaves others without any.
When we are open-handed about what we have rather than lean into protecting our turf, this helps the whole team and the greater mission, and that includes you and me.
4) Following is kind enough to give grace and strong enough to speak up
If the person that leads you makes a mistake, cut them some slack, especially considering the fact that you will appreciate the same grace when you are behind the wheel and things don’t go perfectly.
Every time you want to “correct or fix” your leader, pray for them instead.
There are times, hopefully few, that you need to speak up about a situation that doesn’t seem right. (Or at a minimum, you don’t understand.)
When you have an issue with the person who leads you, start by giving them the benefit of the doubt. Ask a question, don’t point a finger. Have the conversation calmly and respectfully.
When you have an issue with the person who leads you, start by giving them the benefit of the doubt. Ask a question, don’t point a finger. Have the conversation calmly and respectfully. Click & Tweet!
5) Following understands the give and take of leadership
Leadership is like a dance, there are two people, and in the moment, one leads and the other follows. If both attempt to lead, there is a lot of stepping on toes. If no one leads, you just go in circles.
There is a surprising number of leaders that function under the notion that leadership means you do the leading but no following. To be sure, leadership is your main contribution, but following is part of the package. And keep in mind that an unwillingness to follow doesn’t make any of us a visionary, trendsetter or an entrepreneur.
And a healthy view of followership does not include a complete surrender or even death of everything you think, desire or prefer. You remain fully yourself, fully engaged, and fully expressive.
Leading and following is a give and take process that is ever so artful and always in the moment.
Leadership is like a dance, there are two people, and in the moment, one leads and the other follows. If both attempt to lead, there is a lot of stepping on toes. If no one leads, you just go in circles. Click & Tweet!
Jesus Himself said:
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”John 5:19