Monday, June 23, 2014

Follow to Lead

image used under Creative Commons license,
courtesy of
It's been a while since we wandered into the area of leadership.  And we're long overdue to think about it some more.  In July of 2012, Ryan Somers wrote an article in Forbes Magazine, titled "Wanna Lead? Learn How To Follow First".  In it, he makes some interesting points.  We'll highlight some of those for you and add some insights.

One of Ryan's points that we should talk about is the idea of what a follower is. Many concepts describe a follower as a mindless, unthinking individual who has to be led along like a pet on a leash.  Mr. Somers describes that type of follower as passive, conformist, dependent, and having uncritical thinking.  They fit the child in our illustration, following whoever looks like they might have the authority to lead, whether they do or not.  Or they may refuse to obey rightful authority.  Those are not the followers who lead.

Much of society tends to lump passive, conformist, and alienated followers into one, ignoring what Mr. Somers calls "effective followers".  But they're not the same.

The passive follower does what he's told, but no more.  If he's told to complete a task by 5pm quitting time and he's done by 4:45pm, there's no more output from him for those 15 minutes. Unfortunately, that has been a larger part of the American work force than anyone would like.  The conformist follower is similar, except he'll keep going until quitting time or he's told to stop, whichever comes first.  It's strategies built around the conformist follower that give any military a chance of succeeding.  Then there's the alienated follower.  He's self oriented and his level of following is totally dependent on whether he thinks there's something in it for him.  If he believes there's more for him by going against the interests of those around him or the organization, he'll go against them.

It's the last, the effective follower, that is both follower and leader.  He takes ownership of what he's tasked to do and "gets the job done".  Those who lead him may not realize that, at times, he's so immersed in what he's doing that his energy and creativity sometimes leads them instead of him following them.

John Maxwell, in his book Failing Forward, mentions five qualities that I think fit the effective follower and I'll describe as follows:

  1. He expects the best, so he's not always preparing for the worst case scenario.  And he'll recognize the right step, when it shows up.
  2. He's positive, even when circumstances aren't.  He recognizes that much of the negativity in a situation can be his own attitude.
  3. He will find solutions, not live in the problem.  How often do we hear someone say they're stuck in a situation and we see it's because fear has frozen them out of looking for alternatives?
  4. He sees his success, even when people think he's failed.  Most real success isn't in a quantum leap forward that most of us look for.  It's often in small, maybe even imperceptible, stages.  When we recognize our smaller successes, we give ourselves stepping stones to reach the bigger success we're seeking.
  5. He has hope, when others don't.  He takes a page out of God's playbook: Isaiah 46:10 (KJV) Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:".  The effective follower sees farther ahead than others, having a vision of the results.  And he realizes that the other four qualities, plus God, will take him in the right direction.

There's another consideration.  General George S. Patton is quoted as saying, "Always do everything you ask of those you command.".  There's a native American saying about walking a mile in someones moccasins.  Yes, a leader ought to be ready to do as much or more than his followers. And we want to be aware of what someone has been through that helped determine what they did. In the June 17 devotional, Oswald Chambers said, "It is impossible to enter into fellowship with God when you are in a critical mood.".  We understand what's required.  We're willing to do it, right along with those we actually ask to perform the tasks.  And we understand their response or reaction.  We have to properly understand following in order to be a good leader.  But there's more.

We're all familiar with the Biblical scene of Jesus asking Peter multiple times, "Do you love me?". I've talked  about it in depth, before.  But there's an aspect of that event that I've never seen discussed anywhere, including here.  Peter responded that he did love Jesus, but with a different kind of love. Each time, Jesus tells him what to do.  Take a look.

John 21:17 (KJV)  He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

"Feed My sheep".  Think about the circumstances, in terms of today's topic.  There's a common point, from Patton, to Chambers, to Jesus.  Meet people's needs and you'll be made a leader. Jesus didn't tell Peter to dazzle people with rhetoric, He didn't tell Peter to lead a charge on a white stallion, He told Peter to meet their (in this case, spiritual) needs.

We can perform what's asked by an overly business like boss or a feisty drill sergeant.  But we're likely to be the passive follower.  We'll get the same response if we're that boss or military officer. But think about those who have been your "go to" people, over the years.  They're the ones who do extra, show that they know what they're doing, and, most of all, they take our welfare into account. That's what Jesus is showing Peter.

Jesus followed the Father, but leads us.  At least part of what made us follow Him has been His obvious love for us.  So Jesus follows the Father and leads us, including Peter.  Peter follows Jesus. And Jesus is letting him know he's being promoted to a leader in the church.  But there's a specific way to get there -- care for the rest of the Body of Christ.

In Peter's case, there was a recognized position.  For most of us, there's no title or official promotion, but people suddenly respond to us differently.  That's not an ego building thing.  If we let ego get in the way, our unofficial promotion will disappear.  Jesus is showing Peter that our real call and promotion is dependent on others, not our own perspective.  And the others are God and those we've been surrounded with.

If you want to read Ryan Somers' original post in Forbes Magazine, it can be found here:

Oswald Chambers quote: Chambers, Oswald (2010-10-22). My Utmost for His Highest, Updated Edition (Kindle Location 3855). Discovery House Publishers. Kindle Edition.