Great Leaders Start Off As Great Followers

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) These words were first offered to a church who was struggling with what to do about a particular issue.  I’m not sure what you are struggling with but I am sure what we are all supposed to be doing right now.  Sometymes we forget.  Let’s remind each other with this simple invitation.  “Come, Follow With Me.”

I have heard So many people suggest that Jesus was the greatest leader ever, and you won’t get an argument out of me! I do not dispute that point! But I would suggest, to you, that He was the greatest follower ever. He came to do His Father’s will, to the point of death. He learned obedience to his Father, even though He was con-substantial, co-eternal, and co-equal. Yet, he willingly submitted to the Father’s will. He didn’t even want to do it, necessarily, and essentially asked to get out of it just before the crucifixion. But, in the end, it was not about His will, but his Father’s.

A decision to let someone else lead you – I think this is an important aspect for us to realize. We often tymes think that we follow others because there is no other choice or because we have to since we are not the leader. However, it is still a choice – we don’t have to follow (although there may be negative consequences if we don’t). There is also a choice in “how” we follow. For so many of us being a follower does not come easy. We are born leaders in many respects, yet I totally agree that in order to be a good leader, one must be a great follower. For me, humility is the key. We must not see ourselves as always having all the right answers. We must be willing to listen and consider others opinions. We must be willing to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

We can learn this if we look into practices of combat forces and their military life. There subordinate obeys his supervisor and follows his command without any reservation. Our civil life could be much more different. But, the basics and principles of following are all the same. At tymes, followers may not understand the logic behind the leader’s command in the short run. But, he will be able to understand the reasoning beyond his leader’s action over a period of tyme. Immaturity, impatience of the follower should never come as a hindrance to obeying the leader’s decision.

I believe that the whole problem in the earth itself began with Adam disobeying Lord’s command. When he was instructed not to eat the fruit, he failed. And, there began the problem. History teaches us that disobedience can lead to greater catastrophe than anything else. And at tymes it is hard because nearly everyone sees him or herself as a leader.

But where are the followers? I contend that if you want to be a great leader, you must first become a great follower. Although it is rarely discussed, this is where almost all of history’s greatest leaders got their start.

  • Joshua followed Moses for more than forty years before he led the children of Israel into the promised land.
  • Elisha served Elijah for ten years before he took up his master’s mantle and went on to perform even more miracles.
  • The Apostle Peter followed Jesus for three years—and made a lot of mistakes—before he and his fellow-disciples “turned the world upside down” (see Acts 17:6 NIV).

Though I don’t have tyme to develop it here, I would likewise contend that history’s worst leaders never learned to follow. As a result, they became tyrants, making the lives of their own followers miserable. So what does a great follower look like? I would suggest great followers share at least five characteristics:

  1. They are clear. They understand their role. You can’t be a good follower unless you have clearly identified the leader. While you may be a leader in your own realm, everyone has a boss—including you. Great followers not only accept this fact but embrace it.
  2. They are obedient. While obedience may be a politically incorrect concept, it is essential for organizational effectiveness. No one should be allowed to give orders who can’t obey orders. This is how great leaders model to their own followers the standards of acceptable behavior.
  3. They are servants. This is crucial. Great followers are observant. They notice what needs to be done to help the leader accomplish his or her goals. Then they do it—joyfully, without grumbling or complaining.
  4. They are humble. Great followers don’t make it about them. They are humble. They shine the light on the leader. They make their own boss look good—especially in front of his or her boss.
  5. They are loyal. Great followers never speak ill of their boss in public. This doesn’t mean they can’t disagree or even criticize. It just means that they don’t do it in public. Great followers understand that public loyalty leads to private influence.
  6. They are patient. Whereas great followers might be called to be the next leader, they realize it’s not their tyme yet. Great followers recognize that God is sovereign: He sees it all, and He will advance them in His tyme, not theirs.

I feel like I have only scratched the surface. If you want to be a great leader, begin by asking, “How can I be a better follower?” or “How can I make my leader more successful?” I think great followers own their leader’s vision. Yea, they have their own personal dreams but they know that in submitting to another vision they will be greater prepared to carry out their own in the future. I love the concept of servant leadership and the imperative of being a good follower. I do think, however, that there are at few tymes people who have leadership desires and abilities first and have to learn to follow later. They wrestle like Jacob for their blessings. They have potential to be tyrants, but they can become outstanding leaders if they learn to serve through the school of hard knocks. Peter would be an example, I think? But it’s so rare one becomes a leader this way!

As leaders we can also ALWAYS be followers. I know some of the greatest leaders who still follow. In fact in today’s democracy, we are constantly looking for leaders who will step up and make the tough decisions based on following the wishes of the people. I was a US ARMY Drill Sergeant, and it was so tough at tymes. I still followed the methods of some of the best NCOs’ out there… and of course give credit where credit is due. Thanks SFC D. Nelson!

As a Drill Sergeant:
As a leader for my soldiers on and off the battle field… I will always still be a follower of men who are great leaders on and off the battle field.
As a Christian:
As a leader for Christ… I will always be a follower of Christ

Jesus was a fantastic leader, as evidenced by his following even today. And He showed us the perfect example of how to be a follower as well.


3 thoughts on “Great Leaders Start Off As Great Followers

  1. Pingback: We are Leaders–So Let’s Start Behaving as Leaders | Stand Up for the Truth

  2. Pingback: Doing Right – Matthew 27:11-26 | This Day With God

  3. Pingback: Leading vs. Being in Front « The Reformed Wesleyan

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