Follow the Leader: Can Good Leaders Be Good Followers?


June 21, 2018 by Mark Hammerstrom

A while back, Rick Brammer, President of United Credit Service, wrote a great blog on leadership. The study of leadership is close to his heart; first and foremost because he is a good leader. He recognizes that good leaders are also good learners.  They never stop growing and learning.

I thought it may be interesting to explore a slightly different perspective on leadership: what can good leaders learn from being good followers?

I realize that the concept of following instead of leading is hard for many of us to swallow.  Yet, having good followers is the fulcrum on which good leaders lever their skills.  The fact is, too, that we all can’t lead all the time. Inevitably we are followers of someone or something and our ability to competently and skillfully follow a leader is as critical to success as leading.

So, just as there are traits and characteristics that distinguish good leaders, are their traits and characteristics that distinguish good followers?

An article by Gwen Moran in Fast Company titled “5 Ways Being a Good Follower Makes You a Better Leader” discusses traits shared by good followers and which, reciprocally, make them better leaders in their own right.

Awareness: Being a ‘bull in the china shop’ does not a good follower make.  Being aware of our actions, and the impact they have on others around us, is a key attribute.  Quoting Barbara Kellerman (a leadership lecturer at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government) Moran writes: “Being a follower teaches you how to be aware of the needs of other people as well as their potential to ‘make my life hell from one second to the next’…”  Good followers are aware of those things that improve relationships, make the people around them more effective and avoid roadblocks.

Diplomacy:  I have often heard it called the ability to get along in the sandbox.  Quoting Kellerman again: “Good followers learn how to get along with those who have differences while not ignoring those differences…because a leader or manager can’t afford to be oblivious to the attitudes of those around him or her…”  Being able to manage through potential minefields of strong opinions is critical to achieving goals.

Courage:  Any conception that portrays a good follower as docile, subservient, or ‘sheep-like’ is just plain wrong.  Good followers have the voice to speak up in dissent regardless of consequences if a leader or organization is heading in a bad direction.  Among the five qualities this may be the most challenging.  Moran quoting Kellerman again: “…[this] requires the guts and strength of conviction that are essential to good leadership…It means being engaged. It means paying attention. It means having the courage to speak up when something’s wrong and it means having the energy and activism to support a leader or manager who’s doing things wisely and well,” she says.

Collaboration:  Recognizing the power in the team.  Although leaders often stand to receive the most credit for success, being able to work as part of a team, and lever the collaborative talents of coworkers, is the real force behind success.  If a team cannot successfully collaborate, this may make or break the influence of the leader to successfully lead the initiative to conclusion.

Critical Thinking:  The ability to view a challenge from a variety of perspectives and intelligently incorporate useful criticism into a better solution.  Moran quoting Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., (associate dean of the faculty at the Kravis Leadership Institute at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont California): “In order to be a good follower, you need to be able to think for yourself.” Riggio says “Many of the same qualities that we admire in leaders—competence, motivation, intelligence—are the same qualities that we want in the very best followers.”

Isaac Newton once famously wrote: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  Newton relied on the work and insights of Copernicus, Kepler, Brahe and Galileo, as Einstein needed Newton’s work to create his works of genius. And on to our present time.

To become successful leaders, we need to master the art of being successful followers.

Founded in 1950, United Credit Service, Inc. is a full service, licensed revenue cycle management and debt collection agency in Wisconsin providing effective, customized one on one management and recovery solutions for our business partners. Visit our website at, call 877-723-2902 or check out our YouTube video.

Image by: Clinton & Charles Robertson from RAF Lakenheath UK & San Marcos, TX, USA & UK




One thought on “Follow the Leader: Can Good Leaders Be Good Followers?

  1. Lisa Brammer says:

    Reblogged this on United Credit Service, Inc..

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