A friend recently told me he thinks that for every leadership conference people attend, they should have to attend two follower conferences. The more I think about it, the more I think he’s right.
Don’t get me wrong, leadership is important. Having good leaders is a tremendous blessing, and I think we’ve all experienced how bad it can get when leaders don’t lead well.
But it’s not all about leading. In fact, much of life is not about leading at all but about following. You’ve probably been challenged to consider how good a leader you are and to improve your leadership. What about your followership? Have you considered how good a follower you are and how you can improve in that regard? Good or bad followership can make or break a team just as much as good or bad leadership.
And God cares a lot about followership. In fact, it’s a foundational step in Christianity. Did you know that? Above anything else—before following anyone else—Jesus comes to people and says, “Follow me” (Matthew 8:22). He is the ultimate leader, and following him is always good. It can be hard. It can get scary. It might stretch you to your limits. But following Jesus will always lead to deep satisfaction because he endured the worst in your place to open the doors to heaven for you. And he loves it when people follow that path. So being a follower isn’t a bad thing. It can actually be a great thing!
Between here and heaven, there are plenty of other leaders we’re expected to follow. At work, at home, in government, in the church, and throughout various walks of life, we are often asked to follow other leaders. Following Jesus will make us better followers of those other leaders.
Would you like to improve in your followership? Me too. Here are a few points I’ve been working on, and I hope they help you too.
- Pray for your leaders. Let’s be honest: Being a leader can be brutal. Leaders have hard jobs. They’re open to greater scrutiny, criticism, accountability, and potential for failure. Some of the most effective leaders struggle with self-doubt and guilt. Pray for them. Ask God to help them, guide them, strengthen them, and work through them to lead well in whatever position they find themselves.
- Thank your leaders. There’s a good chance they hardly ever hear, “Thank you.” Let it come from you. Let it be sincere. Be specific with your gratitude. What is it about their leadership, their approach, their personality, their demeanor, or their humor that is helpful to you? Let them know how much you appreciate them as you follow, encourage, and build them up.
- Tell your leaders what you think. One of the things leaders need most from followers is input. Good followers are willing to share their thoughts and points of view. They do so respectfully and humbly. But they don’t withhold insights they think might be helpful. You might be the only follower who’s astute or brave enough to share a much-needed perspective. Don’t hold it back. Be respectful but also have the courage to share.
- Make it a joy for them to be your leaders. Finally, make it a pleasure for people to lead you. Make your followership fun and pleasant. Let yourself be teachable. Study your leaders to identify what makes them feel valued—and then make them feel valued. Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile for them. Conduct yourself in a way that makes them proud—even honored—to be your leader.
As a pastor, I’m often a leader. And I work with a lot of followers. But I have leaders too. And I too want to be a good follower. The more I work at being a leader, the more I find myself saying, “Thank God for good followers.”