If being a leader is “good”, then is being a follower “bad”?

I’ve struggled with the notion that you can’t define a leader without defining a follower. However, I’ve come to think of that differently. It is true that you need both. However, I think that the notion of “follower” has turned into something bad. Perhaps it is because of all of the emphasis on becoming a leader. But, being a follower might not be all that bad.

In fact, I like the idea that leader and follower require the other in their definitions to have meaning. It shows a symbiotic relationship. They can’t exist without each other.

I think that we need leaders because without them nothing will progress. That’s what leaders do. They enable you to progress.

However, leaders can’t actually make anything progress without followers. Therefore, the follower is just as important in the equation.

Without leaders I think that people would ultimately just drone on until they became obsolete or extinct. I think this is true at the individual, organization and societal level. On the other hand, without followers, there would be all of these great ideas for what’s next with no way of getting there. Inevitably we’d still drone on until we became obsolete or extinct. I guess the main difference is that in the first case we’d fade away quietly and unknowingly whereas in the second case we’d be really frustrated while it happened. But, it would still happen.

I see this playing out in part in the difference between Academe and Business. Academe, in my mind, has mostly leaders. Innovation sometimes takes longer there. Business, however, has leaders and followers so things progress more rapidly. Now, that’s not to say that Academe will “drone” on to obsolescence. At a high level, Academe is the big leader and business, as an institution, a follower. Therefore, Academe does continue to progress on a more macro level.

Given this definition, I think that both the leader and the follower play an important role in ensuring progress. I’ve actually suggested that people need as much training in followership as they do in leadership. Following well is hard. I don’t mean the lemur off the cliff type of following. I mean the kind of following that actually does propel us forward.

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