Jesus was a Follower
Not all leaders can lead like Gandhi, Lincoln, Churchill, or Jesus. Surprisingly, Jesus described himself as a follower.
He said things like:
- I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father.
- I have not spoken of my own authority.
You can’t lead if you don’t follow.
Authority is derived from following a vision that attracts followers. Vision is more important than character. Hitler was a leader.
I’m not encouraging you to be a low-character leader. But people with low character can lead if they articulate compelling vision. In other words,
Liars can lead, at least for awhile. But,
you can’t lead without a vision.
Others see where leaders are going and choose to follow.
Regardless of what you think of Jesus, he thought of himself as a leader. He said things like, “Follow me,” and people did.
Leaders are followers and followers are leaders.
A leader who follows:
Leaders follow a vision that requires followers. The greater the vision the more necessary and compelling the call for followers.
What or who you follow
determines who follows you.
If you want to lead, above all else, know where you’re going. All leaders must have a destination in mind. How will the world be better if others follow you?
Other factors that attract followers:
- Capacity to communicate the vision.
- Confidence others have in your ability to lead them toward the vision.
- Capability to help others see themselves in the vision. When Jesus called followers he said, “I will make you fishers of men…” The call became about them.
Where do you fall on the tension between vision as a group activity or a leader activity?
How can leaders attract followers?
We are devising visions at different organizational levels and customizing more as the levels go deeper. We call them big “Y”‘s (it’s an equation type thing). Each is built on the one before.
I definitely think success is limited when a senior leader suddenly declares a vision without first trying to listen and hear the values and passion of those he wishes to lead. He or she will be driving off in an empty bus with everyone still waiting at the bus stop screaming “WHERE ARE YOU GOING!?” Even if they catch up and jump in the bus those aren’t going to be very pleased passengers (plus they’ll stink).
I lean toward vision as a combined activity for the same reason you do, buy in.
Perhaps people like Churchill didn’t have to worry about buy in. 🙂 In that case, circumstances are important. Another situation might be where a person starts a business rather than guides and existing one.
Even Churchill was more successful when he thought of the collective.
He kept Chamberlain in the Cabinet through his death, for instance, kept Parliament informed of all war action, and though he exiled political foes in a sense (often through ambassadorships an ocean away), he allowed them to save face where a firing wouldn’t have done so.
Thanks for adding this James. What I hear you saying is that Churchill wasn’t unilateral when it came to his leadership style.
A person with no followers is no leader!!
They are just an egotistical idiot flapping their gums!!
To start a movement only one requirement…..the first follower!!! Get ya one, then some!!!
Promise I googled it!!!
SP back to now!! So cool here!!!
Excellent article and so true in its relevance for today. I love it.
Thanks Leslie. Cheers.
Great today Dan!!
For me a Leader can clearly define their Why!!! Make it HUGE like mine!!!
Go large or stay home!!!!
This is the fuel for the passion!
Get own house in order!! One can’t transmit what they ain’t got! If I got oranges I can’t give apples!
Then commit! Doing the things I said I would do long after the feeling I had when I said then has left me.
Then become consumed with a burning desire and give it a whirl!!!!
The saddest stories are not the ones of the lunkheads who never try, no the saddest stories are of the ones who toiled long and hard, goal just within reach and they gave up!!!! Terds!!! Lol
Never never never never give up!!! Giving up is for whimps and excuse makers!! Don’t be a whimp and an excuse maker!! Or do up to you!!!
Have a vital spiritual experience, get rocketed into the 4th Dimension, serve others!!!
My story and I am sticking to it!!
SP back to now!!!
I’m wondering if you every plan to come out of your shell?
Lol. Dan I am just living before I die!!!!
You made me belly laugh!!!!
Thanks!!! Belly laughs rock!!!
SP back to my belly laugh!!
that was the goal.. 🙂
Yeah, I’ve been worried that SP was gettin’ reclusive… 😉
Great leaders must know when and how to follow. Through the following they inspire hearts and minds. And now so many around the world seek to follow his example. Brilliant leadership.
I always appreciate your insights. Thanks for extending the conversation.
Every great leader needs to know how to be a great follower. And every great follower needs to know how to be lead. The swing between these 2 opposites create the learning/ transformational dimension.
We certainly learn a lot when we learn to lead or learn to follow. It’s sad when we are only good at one of these. Leaders who can’t follow can’t listen.
I’m glad you brought followership into this blog, Dan. There are thousands of books, seminars, and discussions about leadership, and very few on followership, despite the fact that both are equally important to the cause that gives reason to organizational and individual vision, direct, and efforts.
What was God the Father’s cause that God the Son followed? It is well summed up in John 3:16 – He loved the world enough to give His own Son as a substitutionary sacrifice to save them from the perdition their sins merited. What was the Son’s response to the Father? “Not my will, but yours be done”. As Philippians 2:5-11 tells us, He willingly humiliated Himself unto death on the cross, and was subsequently highly exalted.
Christ was therefore subservient, but also a leader. In the same cause, He issued the great commission of Matthew 28:18-20, to “Go into the world and make disciples”. This was necessary so that people would hear the good news and accept it, rendering His sacrifice effective for their own destiny.
One does not have to believe my two preceding paragraphs to understand the application to leadership and followership. The important thing in the story is the purpose, or cause, of the Father’s and the Son’s actions, and the alignment required from the top of the organization to the bottom for that cause to be effective.
Leadership and followership are simply different roles involved in getting things done. One is not better than the other, and most people will be both during their lives. Followers without a leader are often inefficient, especially once their numbers get to more than 3 or 4 people. Leaders without followers lack the means of accomplishing things.
What is most important is not the role, but the purpose. There is no more glory to being a leader of a failed venture than a follower, no more fun in having wasted years of effort in either role. Leadership and followership should all be subservient to the notion of advancing the organization’s cause towards its ultimate goal.
Purpose-filled lives are fun to live. Purpose-driven organizations give meaning to the hours of hard work that we choose to spend in preference to doing other things.
We should pick our life goals and our associations carefully, then be absolutely the best in whatever role we find ourselves. Our passage on earth is temporary – it must not be wasted. Every second of life is a gift that we choose to use, every resource we consume is a gift as well. We are stewards of those gifts, whether leaders or followers.
May we be good stewards, leading or following as required to accomplish our purpose.
Thank you, Dan, for serving us with your daily writing of this blog. Thank you for leading the conversations and providing feedback. Thanks to others who contribute to that feedback. This life is an amazing journey for me on a small speck of the universe called earth.
May we as readers and contributors be worthy stewards of the gifts we have been given.
Sorry for the lengthy post. My heart was moved and overflowing.
Thanks for your insights Marc,
You reminded me of a person who has written on this topic.
“Followers are more important to leaders than leaders are to followers.” Barbara Kellerman
Powerful and humbling idea.
You make a good point about the lack of books written on followership. Might that be in part due to many people thinking that following is somehow less than leading.
In any case, one book that I read some time ago did come to my mind as the closest thing: Teamwork Is An Individual Skill by Christopher Avery.
I’ll add JImmy Collin’s book: Creative Followership. It challenged my thinking.
Jimmy has been leaving comments in this discussion thread.
Thanks to both of you for the suggested reading.
Great stuff to consider, Dan. I think the reason WHY it’s so important to be an effective follower is so you understand the emotional needs of those you’re leading. Great leadership relies on an understanding of what it’s like to be those around you – following someone and their vision.
I believe it was not Jesus’ divinity, but his humanity that helped him understand his followers, because he, too, submitted to the will of HIS Leader. So many times you read that management needs to understand their people, but I think the most effective leaders understand what it’s LIKE to BE their people.
I always look forward to your daily insights, Dan. Thank you for the time and energy you put towards impacting modern leadership. Your efforts are not just changing, but improving lives.
YOu make me think about the problem of people with positions of leadership but who are disconnected from their followers. Eventually, all they have is a position, authority, and coercion.
I like this model – if you can follow a vision larger than yourself, and lead others to this vision, then your work will outlast your leadership. It seems like the goal would be to have the vision and the work connect to the larger goal, rather than to yourself?
Your comment is inspirational. I love the idea that “work will outlast leadership.”
Fantastic post, as usual. I have worked hard to develop a leadership style that is goal oriented. I have been most successful when I:
• Establish clearly defined goals (some are defined for us)
• Identify obstacles to achieving your goals.
• Solicit input from other stakeholders on how to overcome or minimize the obstacles.
• Create a clear vision about where you want to go.
• Communicate (sell) your vision with confidence, creativity, conviction and passion.
• Demonstrate forward movement, leaders must go first if they want others to follow.
Wonderful insights. I see why these concepts work for you.
You’ve pointed to some often passed-over truths, like a compelling vision can come from the mouth of a low-character leader… Your post reminds us that lasting leadership demands character/integrity, Followers are easy to find — those who build the internal strengths (integrity,character) to lead are rare.
(so) If we measure leaders by numbers of followers we may be vulnerable to “best communicators” or compelling messages with little long term value/depth. Yet I think we are all tempted to count followers (be it Facebook, Tweets, comments, attendees at a conference)
Perhaps we are seeing much of this “coming home to roost” in political “leaders.”
I’ll add that we might get seduced by outgoing/extroverted types and underestimate introverted/quite types. But, when we focus on the vision of a person AND their character we are more likely to identify someone worthy of being followed.
Love this post. There’s so much perspective to be gained by stepping back to follow before (or while) leading. Even as Jesus gathered his followers, he stepped back and let them be the voice for their common beliefs. My beliefs about leadership include: *Leaders must groom future leaders (and give them the opportunity to lead) so that the vision or the advancement toward the goals continues…. otherwise when the leader leaves, the progress slows and eventually withers on the vine.
*Leaders must make the vision/message about the benefits to the followers not about about themselves (the leader) and then people want to follow.
*Leaders must have a direction as you stated….otherwise we wander in the desert.
As I read your comment about benefits it reminded me that followers need to see the benefit that comes to others and themselves of adopting/supporting a vision. Cheers
I have always believed — and have never heard or read anything that would change my mind — that a person has to be a good follower before she or he can be a good leader. It’s the only way to obtain first hand experience and observations of the good and bad characteristics of leaders we come across, and to then internalize the charactistics that we want to embody as leaders ourselves. So it will probably come as no surprise, then, that I believe one of the best ways to become a leader is to be able to observe others in action in leadership positions.
One of the surprising things in Jimmy Collin’s book, Creative Followership, was that trying to be a leader taught Jimmy about being a follower. Isn’t that interesting?
great post! as an improvising musician I follow the creative voice in my head with complete obedience (at least that’s the goal)… other’s then follow me. same thing.
I’m learning to follow that inner voice as well. I find many distractions but occassionally it happens. It’s a gift when it does.
Dan, the definition of Follower is just as simple and clear as the definition of Leader.
The stumbling block for so many people is submitting to being a follower and eliminating their desire to be “a leader.”
When we are committed to the Unifying Purpose, our joy of accomplishment overcomes the siren calls of ego.
See my post for this week, What Every Leader Must Have. http://creativefollowership.com/20131111bp/
I respect your candor and transparency. Your elevation of followership is an essential voice in today’s world. Thanks for extending the conversation.
Leaders can attract followers by showing them a better way. How do you show someone a better way? You lead by example – the cornerstone of great leadership. Action and doing will attract followers. Leaders can talk and write and talk all they want which may attract a few short term followers, but they will drop off once they realize there is no substance. Leaders show,do and act towards a “better way” and people will follow.
You remind me of the five functions of leadership explained in The Leadership Challenge. Model the way is #1 on the list.
Every comment thus far is on point. I worked for an ersatz leader for many years. But in reality he manifested solipsistic tendencies every day. While he feigned concern for the employees, his real goal was to burnish his own identity, at the expense of the workers. One of the truest measures of a person I describe is his estrangement with the reality and truth. A true leader must pursue and and endure the truth. He must use the truth to accomplish the objectives of those he leads and not pursue his own aggrandizement. Eventually, the treads of deceit unravel and your leader lays fallow and naked. I witnessed this first hand and it was a disgusting and gut–retching experience.
Jesus was a true leader. He lead by example, taught by example, lived by example and died by example. He never lied. He challenged those who did. He didn’t shrink from responsibility. He did his job and what a job!!!! He didn’t seek glory. In fact, several times he admonished those he helped and cured to tell no one. He live humbly and devoutly, but his unexaulted life lives on in exautled glory. And that leads me to a final point. True leadership survives the leader. Once he or she is gone, the examples, tenets, precepts and works perdure–sometimes for 2,000+ years!!!
Leaders embrace the brutal facts….One thing I’ve enjoyed about talking with leaders is experiencing their candor.
Sal, I can definitely relate to your experience regarding leaders who seem to advance their own self serving agenda. Unfortunately, I have a new found appreciation for employee turnover.
Also, thank you for expanding my vocabulary! I learned a few new words today: ersatz, solipsistic, and perdure. I actually Googled them to understand their meaning.
Do you have any GREAT sources for creating a vision?
There are many good books on finding/creating vision. My favorite book on vision was written by Jesse Lyn Stoner and Ken Blanchard, “Full Steam Ahead“
I second that recommendation! A great and practical read.
I love this post Dan! I have always believed that a good leader has to be a good follower. And without vision, no matter how intelliegent a person is, how can they be a leader?
There might be some debate on this point but I agree. Leaders are followers.
Dan, I have to say thank you to you. This post has fired up a bunch of things for me, including bringing me back to who I am. Sometimes I get caught up in the ‘everybody else is doing it’ thinking. When I’m not true to who I am I’m hardly convincing. I do think there are leaders who are not followers, and many are successful but I’m not sure about their longevity – know what I mean? Thanks for inspiring me today Dan!
We’re on a journey Diana. It’s wonder you shared part of yours. Best wishes and have a great weekend.
Dan, perhaps a new title for your blog.. Followership Freak?
Admittedly there is a dynamic tension twixt vision/leading/following and it is needed to create energy and move us out of a metaphoric zeroth law of thermodynamic.
Geoffrey’s observations to being a musician ring true here too. Our ability to create a harmonic vision is much more powerful as a group, yet, at times, a lead is needed. Sometimes there is a solo and everyone else provides the support to the soloist and those positions trade off for sum that is much more powerful than the individual (or the leader).
I couldn’t use followership because its so out of step with most of what you read. I’d be laughed at… 🙂
The music illustration is powerful… even in diversity there is unity of purpose.
Dan, I think “Discussion Freak” would be a worthy name for you. You excel in provoking interesting discussion.
Thank you sir. You are very kind and encouraging.
I need to hear this for my new venture that I am thinking about.
Gotta love that Jesus ;o)
Best wishes on your new venture… cheers
I love Marc’s comment that “leaders and followers should be subservient to the notion of advancing the organization’s cause” (mission) “toward its ultimate goal” (vision).
Mission is what the organization does. Vision is what the organization hopes to become. When leaders and followers believe in the vision, they strive to improve their day to day mission activities in order to move the mission closer to attaining that shared vision.
Okay, I agree with you here. But, what happens when you become obsessed with the vision that you follow, and fail to realize that this may not be a vision that others subscribe to? The leader/ follower must also be keenly aware of “what is happening in the ranks”, else he/she will be blind to all but the vision. To that extent, a great leader will also “follow” his followers.
I believe in the servant leadership model where I am there to serve those that I am leading. In addition to providing shared vision and goals, this includes being open to feedback and listening carefully to my followers. This allows me to be able to know in your words know “what is happening in the ranks” and when adjustments need to be made. So I agree with you that I follow my followers.