14. August 2023

Be a good follower

When everyone leads, no one does — image generated by DALLE2

The first time someone called me a “Leader,” I was taken aback. At 24, I had just landed a job I never thought I’d deserve, and just like that, I was in my first leadership-training.

They told us young guns that this training was tailored for “Leaders like us.” That got me thinking:

If I’m supposedly a “leader” now and everyone new gets this training, where’s everyone else? I mean, who’s a leader without any followers?

I kinda love the idea of a choice. Imagine if instead of “How to lead effectively,” we could attend “How to be an amazing follower!” I’d be in just out of curiosity.

A search on Amazon for the word “Leadership” yields 60,000 results. If you search for “Follower,” the list is not only significantly smaller, it’s also no longer about our success in life.

Successful people, this suggests, are “Leaders.”

In job interviews, no one asks us, “Tell me about a time you kept things running in the background and nobody noticed.” Instead, we prepare for, “Give us an example of a project in which you played a leading role…”

So, those who aim for success apparently strive to be at the forefront.

Our society emphasizes the idea of leadership so much that nearly everyone tries to see themselves as leaders in some form. If not already leading, at least aspiring to be a future leader, and in the meantime, maybe leading something in our personal lives…

I find this toxic. It creates inflated egos, misguided goals, and wasted energy in striving for a status that is neither productive nor “real.”, because — tough love alert! — there’s one truth no one admits:

If everyone leads, then no one really does!

Moreover, so-called leaders often assume that these leadership qualities are inherent traits or abilities they’ve acquired. I believe this is a misconception. The reality is that sometimes we’re at the forefront, and other times we’re not. The art lies in knowing our position at any given moment and whether we can truly fulfill the role given by circumstances, or if we should perhaps step aside for someone else.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we cheered just as loud for the backstage heroes as we do for those taking the spotlight? If the most celebrated action was when someone stepped aside to give someone else a chance to win the day?

For every “How to lead” guide out there, let’s talk about what makes an awesome follower. Here’s what I’m thinking:

EmpathyHumilityExpertiseTransparencyWillingness to learnDrive to performIndependenceWillingness to take responsibilityConstructive discussion culture

And yes, I believe all these traits are also beneficial for leaders. Because, in essence, I think that good leaders are characterized, among other things, by knowing when to remain in the background, rather than pushing themselves to the forefront simply because their title allows them to…

This text is completely written by me. However, the original version is in German and I asked an AI to help with the translation.

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