Being a great leader has a surprising amount in common with being a good follower. Whether you are leading a business, a project or a revolution, excellent leadership qualities will often develop from skills that you learned earlier in your career, often while following a great leader. If you want to know where to start to become a great leader, begin from the knowledge that great followers become great leaders.
There is a great deal of crossover in the skills required of those leading a team, and the team members themselves. This is obvious in many project management scenarios, where both the project manager and the team members need to show openness, responsiveness, flexibility and excellent communication skills. There are several qualities of good followers that allow them to develop into inspirational leaders.
1. Good followers understand their role.
They know exactly where they fit in and how best they can benefit their team. Good leaders are similar. The best leaders understand their role as leader, and recognise exactly where they can step in to support their team, make tasks easier, and move the whole team closer to their objectives.
2. Good followers listen.
No team can move successfully towards their objectives unless team members are listening to and following instructions. However, listening is also a leadership skill. If anything, listening becomes more important when you are in charge of a project or programme where you will be receiving lots of feedback from different team members, staff and other stakeholders. Good leaders listen, process information and respond accordingly, using multiple sources of feedback to keep their projects moving forwards.
3. Good followers serve others.
Within a team working towards a common goal, it is sometimes necessary to step up and do what needs to be done to support other team members. This is another “following” skill that is even more vital in leaders. The leader has a better overall view of a project and should be the first to step in and help when something changes and someone requires extra help or support.
4. Good followers are humble.
They make their leader look good. And good leaders? They make their team look great. Humility allows leaders to step back and shine a light on others, give credit where credit is due, and make the whole team proud of their individual and collective achievements.
5. Good followers are loyal.
They don’t criticise their leader or their project in public. They are able, of course, to disagree, debate and put forth alternative suggestions in private, but the world will see a united front. Great leaders do their team the same courtesy. Negative feedback happens in private, and with the sole aim of reaching a solution.
6. Good followers grow into good leaders.
It is easy to think in either/or terms when it comes to leaders and followers, but in practice, most leaders grow into their roles over time. Being a member of a successful team is excellent training for future leaders. Often, it is only by observing how things work from the inside that we truly appreciate what it takes to lead a project or programme to a successful outcome.