Becoming a Great Follower

Edition: September 2002 - Vol 10 Number 09
Article#: 1306
Author: John OíMalley

In a world where everyone looks to leaders, the truth of the matter is that not everyone can be one. However, and perhaps more importantly behind every great leader is a cohort of great followers. So start focusing on being a great follower. Your turn to lead will come. Great followers become great leaders because they know what followers, especially great followers, are looking for in a leader. Toward this end, the twelve following traits or guidelines will help anyone become a great follower and, when the time is right, a great leader:

1. Offer loyalty. Great followers are loyal to their leader. They can be trusted with confidential matters and material, do not talk out of school or disagree with the leader behind his or her back, and do not degrade the leader, or his or her vision and position in front of others. Ethical allegiance to a leader is important to the leaderís success, while blind allegiance is detrimental for all.

2. Provide support. Great followers ethically and unselfishly support their leader in helping him or her carry out his vision and charge. They shelter their leader from mundane, minor activities and unnecessary distractions, especially their own. Leaders and followers cannot exist without one another.

3. Keep the leader informed. Great followers keep their leader informed about the things around them as well as distant things that might affect their ability to lead effectively. Great followers are the objective eyes and ears of their leader, as well as their pipeline to other followers and the outside world. That way, they provide valuable and insightful feedback.

4. Help keep the leader prepared. Great followers never allow their leader to be Ė or appear to be Ė unprepared to meet the challenges at hand. They help set the stage for their leaderís success by achieving their goals and objectives, and they excel at being team players, thus helping other followers become great.

5. Practice self-sacrifice. Great followers unselfishly sacrifice their own ambitions and time in favor of the leaderís needs, vision and support. That the leaderís ethical cause must prevail is the winning mindset that all great followers possess.

6. Project a favorable image of the leader. Great followers always favorably image their leader on every occasion and to everyone, and never let an opportunity slip by to promote their leader and his or her vision in the best possible light.

7. Protect the leader from getting blindsided. Great followers protect their leader from getting blindsided by events and people that could distract him or her from the focus on leading. They consider it paramount to protect their leader from embarrassment or failure by watching for compromising political, economic or business activities.

8. Offer encouragement. Great followers provide their leaders encouragement during demanding, difficult and frustrating times. Leaders are human, and periodically require reciprocal motivational coaching to get the strength and endurance to continue toward their vision.

9. Believe in the leader. Great followers believe strongly in their leader and his or her vision, and become disciples of the leader, conveying Ė if not preaching Ė to others the leaderís philosophy, vision, and direction.

10. Set an example. Great followers set an example for other followers and prospective followers to emulate in following and supporting their leader. Followers who exhibit a compromising attitude and exhibit questionable behavior greatly distract from a leaderís ability to achieve his or her vision.

11. Avoid embarrassing the leader. Great followers never knowingly engage in discriminating and disgraceful actions that would discredit themselves, let alone their leader or his or her position. While detractors often try to disgrace a leader of an opposing cause or position, nothing is more damaging to a cause than when controversial actions by followers cast an unfavorable light on their leader and his or her objectives.

12. Alleviate burdens from leaderís shoulders.Great followers make it a point to alleviate burdens from their leaderís shoulders whenever possible. They take on activities that free up the leader for other things, and unassumingly take on assignments where their expertise and experience can shore up a leaderís weaknesses.

Every great leader has a dynamic leadership kit comprising knowledge, insight and time. Leaders are street-smart. They have a broad knowledge of human nature and psychology; insight into changing times, technology, trends and the economy that are shaping the future; and significant time to commit to demanding leadership tasks and activities. Great followers help keep their leaderís kit updated, ethical and competitive.

In the end, great followers are ethical, dependable and supportive of their leader, whether in a business, religious or political environment, John O'Malley is a healthcare sales and marketing consultant based in Birmingham, AL.

He is the author of
Ultimate Patient Satisfaction (McGraw-Hill 1997) and Healthcare Marketing, Sales and Service (Health Administration Press 2001) and frequent Repertoire contributor. He may be reached at (205) 995-8495 or His Web site is www.strategicvisions