Why the Best Leaders Are Great Followers

When I first became an acquistions editor, I took a proposal for a book on leadership to our Pub Board. (This is the group in a publishing company that determines what gets published and what doesn’t.) The consensus was that the book was not commercially viable. The market was just too small.

Ducks Following Their Mother - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/istock-dk, Image #14793457

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/istock-dk

However, in 1998 everything changed. Thomas Nelson published the The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell. I was the VP of Marketing at that time. My job was to help make the book a success.

Fortunately, John not only wrote a great book, but he worked tirelessly to help promote it. The result? The book hit the New York Times list and has now sold almost two million copies. It is still in Amazon’s top 1,000 books.

Since that time an entire industry has sprung up around the topic of leadership. It includes books, magazines, blogs, conferences, and even graduate degrees from major universities. Apparently, the market is vast. Why? Because nearly everyone sees him or herself as a leader.

But where are the followers?

I contend that if you want to be a great leader, you must first become a great follower. Although it is rarely discussed, this is where almost all of history’s greatest leaders got their start.

  • Joshua followed Moses for more than forty years before he led the children of Israel into the promised land.
  • Elisha served Elijah for ten years before he took up his master’s mantle and went on to perform even more miracles.
  • The Apostle Peter followed Jesus for three years—and made a lot of mistakes—before he and his fellow-disciples “turned the world upside down” (see Acts 17:6).

Though I don’t have time to develop it here, I would likewise contend that history’s worst leaders never learned to follow. As a result, they became tyrants, making the lives of their own followers miserable.

So what does a great follower look like? I would suggest great followers share at least five characteristics:

  1. They are clear. They understand their role. You can’t be a good follower unless you have clearly identified the leader. While you may be a leader in your own realm, everyone has a boss—including you. Great followers not only accept this fact but embrace it.
  2. They are obedient. While obedience may be a politically incorrect concept, it is essential for organizational effectiveness. No one should be allowed to give orders who can’t obey orders. This is how great leaders model to their own followers the standards of acceptable behavior.
  3. They are servants. This is crucial. Great followers are observant. They notice what needs to be done to help the leader accomplish his or her goals. Then they do it—joyfully, without grumbling or complaining.
  4. They are humble. Great followers don’t make it about them. They are humble. They shine the light on the leader. They make their own boss look good—especially in front of his or her boss.
  5. They are loyal. I have written on this before. Great followers never speak ill of their boss in public. This doesn’t mean they can’t disagree or even criticize. It just means that they don’t do it in public. Great followers understand that public loyalty leads to private influence.

I feel like I have only scratched the surface. If you want to be a great leader, begin by asking, “How can I be a better follower?” or “How can I make make my boss more successful?”

Question: What else does it take to be a great follower? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.jeremysconfessions.com Jeremy’s Confessions

    I love how Peter became a great leader. He was a “learn the hard way” kind of guy, but he did learn, eventually. I am grateful that we get to see his mistakes because it makes his leadership even more “real.”

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    The greatest followers are those who mention and retweet the most.

  • http://www.godsabsolutelove.com Patricia Zell

    Christ told his disciples to follow him and he would make them fishers of men. When we look at what he taught (and the Bible teaches, while we’re at it), loving people and treating them with kindness and respect are the foundations of influencing people. As followers, we can have great influence when we give kindness and respect to our leaders.

    • Rutheo4

      I agree.

  • http://twitter.com/PaulEvans Paul Evans

    “Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth”

    I love that about Joshua. He began leading Israel by title at age 80. He separated himself from the “average” 40 years earlier when spying out the land.

    But it all began in his youth.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    We can learn this if we look into practices of combat forces and their military life. There subordinate obeys his supervisor and follows his command without any reservation. Our civil life could be much more different. But, the basics and principles of following are all the same. At times, followers may not understand the logic behind the leader’s command in the short run. But, he will be able to understand the reasoning beyond his leader’s action over a period of time. Immaturity, impatience of the follower should never come as a hindrance to obeying the leader’s decision.

    I believe that the whole problem in the earth itself began with Adam disobeying Lord’s command. When he was instructed not to eat the fruit, he failed. And, there began the problem. History teaches us that disobedience can lead to greater catastrophe than anyting else.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      The military analogy is perfect. I almost used this in the post. Thanks!

    • http://pennyshire.wordpress.com ReflectionsByPj

      Uma, I, too, love this example. It is GREAT.

      • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

        Thanks PJ!

  • http://davidsantistevan.com David Santistevan

    I think great followers own their leader’s vision. Yea, they have their own personal dreams but they know that in submitting to another vision they will be greater prepared to carry out their own in the future. I’ve asked the question regarding my lead pastor, “How can I make him the most successful lead pastor on the planet? How can I help to make his vision a reality?” Has really caused me to grow.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is a great question. Thanks!

    • http://bloggingwithamy.com Amy Lynn Andrews

      Wow. Yes. Asking that question is revealing on so many levels, most notably my pride and envy. Great insight, David. Thank you.

    • http://stevencribbs.com Steven Cribbs

      I agree, that is a great question. Our world tends to down-play the role of “2nd chair”. But, if we take this mentality of helping to make the leader successful, this “2nd chair role” can become quite strategic and vital…and potentially lead to greater things for all those involved.

    • Joe Lalonde

      I think that’s true. In building others you build yourself.

  • http://www.100memoirs.com Shirley Showalter

    I love the concept of servant leadership and the imperative of being a good follower. I think, however, that there are people who have leadership desires and abilities first and have to learn to follow later. They wrestle like Jacob for their blessings. They have potential to be tyrants, but they can become outstanding leaders if they learn to serve through the school of hard knocks. Peter would be an example, I think. Would love to hear your response to this idea, because I am working out this theme in my memoir.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I think those with leadership abilities should intentionally find someone to serve first. Being a follower is primarily a decision to let someone else lead you.

      • http://stevencribbs.com Steven Cribbs

        “a decision to let someone else lead you” – I think this is an important aspect for us to realize. We often times think that we follow others because there is no other choice or because we have to since we are not the leader. However, it is still a choice – we don’t have to follow (although there may be negative consequences if we don’t). There is also a choice in “how” we follow.

      • Lobays

        As leaders we can also ALWAYS be followers. I know some of the greatest leaders who still follow. In fact in today’s democracy, we are constantly looking for leaders who will step up and make the tough decisions based on following the wishes of the people. I coach High School basketball, and it is so tough at times. I still follow the methods of some of the best coaches out there…and of course give credit where credit is due.

        As a High School Basketball Coach:
        As a leader for my kids on and off the court…I will always still be a follower of men who are great leaders on and off the court.
        As a Christian:
        As a leader for Christ…I will always be a follower of Christ

  • Mark Cleghorn

    Thanks for affirming what I have always believed. I also believe great followers ask their leaders what their goals are and what they can do to help achieve those goals. Those great followers should do all they can to make those goals a reality.

  • http://www.leahadams.org Leah Adams

    For so many of us being a follower does not come easy. We are born leaders in many respects, yet I totally agree that in order to be a good leader, one must be a great follower. For me, humility is the key. We must not see ourselves as always having all the right answers. We must be willing to listen and consider other’s opinions. We must be willing to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

    Great post for me to ponder on.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I think being a great follower is not about talents or gifts (or the lack thereof); it is mostly about a decision to follow.

  • http://twitter.com/davebaldwin Dave Baldwin

    Over the past 37 years I’ve been in the second chair in leadership in the local church. So I’ve had a lot of practice at this following thing. I think the one factor I’d add is the reason for when we confront the leader. We as followers confront the leader when it is for her/his own good and that of the organization’s. It’s never so that we can show how much we know, or for something that would be for our personal benefit, but so that the leader can best do his/her job and the organization (local church) can better move forward. You always swallow hard and take a deep breath before you do it, but there are times for their benefit and that of the organization that you must do it.
    Thank you Michael for a great post this morning.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Dave. I agree. Real leaders will welcome this. I heard someone describe the leader’s task in this regard as making the environment “safe for dissent.”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SIEP6O7VEOVYXY5UFHF7DGVJIY roger

    I think the modern day term we use for the follower you have described is “team player.” Someone who is able to accept a supporting role in achieving success for the team and places that above receiving credit for himself.

  • http://twitter.com/karyoberbrunner Kary Oberbrunner

    #6 They are patient. Whereas great followers might be called to be the next leader, they realize it’s not their time yet. Great followers recognize that God is sovereign: He sees it all, and He will advance them in His time, not theirs.

    Psalm 75: 6 No one from the east or the west
    or from the desert can exalt themselves.
    7 It is God who judges:
    He brings one down, he exalts another.

    (Heard a great talk by Andy Stanley on this regarding David in the cave, when he could have killed Saul.)

    • Lkfischer

      My thoughts exactly Kary,

      Patience is a struggle for me. Yet I do realize God has planned it all out for us.

      Thank you for the post Micheal. These last few posts have been home runs!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I love the story in the cave with David and Saul. I have seen this play out in real life.

  • http://twitter.com/kevinowens4 Kevin Owens

    Another great, thought-provoking post…

    I have heard so many people suggest that Jesus was the greatest leader ever, and I do not dispute that point. I would also suggest, to your point, that He was the greatest follower ever. He came to do His Father’s will, to the point of death. He didn’t even want to do it, necessarily, and essentially asked to get out of it just before the crucifixion. But, in the end, it was not about His will, but his Father’s.

    Jesus was a fantastic leader, as evidenced by his following even today. And He showed us the perfect example of how to be a follower as well. Thanks again for the reminder, especially this week.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree with your points about Jesus. He learned obedience to his Father, even though He was con-substantial, co-eternal, and co-equal. Yet, he willingly submitted to the Father’s will.

  • Chuck Meadors

    A great follower as a great leader has to be a great student. Leaders are readers and great followers not only be good reader but a great student of his leader and his vision so he can support him and develop his own leadership skills.

    • http://stevencribbs.com Steven Cribbs

      I agree. As a follower and as a leader, I think it is crucial for us to be good students in order to support our leaders well and to lead our followers well.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    I think it is helpful when a follower has a different skill set than the leader and becomes a great facilitator. That way it is easy for the leader to delegate tasks. I am a big believer in training. In a modern office setting, having knowledge of popular office software such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint can really make a huge difference in professionalism and productivity. If you want to make your boss look good, start here. If you want a job promotion, having this type of knowledge can make you indispensable.

  • Tk Beyond

    Jesus, our supreme leader, was a follower. He declared that He only spoke and did what His Father told Him to do. I am always amazed at the great humility (point #4) displayed by our Lord Jesus, and the simplicity of the basic call of discipleship… denying self, taking up the cross & following. An example of a poor follower would be Judas, who put himself, his own ambition (and greed) ahead of anything and anyone else.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Two excellent examples. Thanks.

  • http://www.suttonparks.com Sutton Parks

    #3, They are Servants. I have observed that many of the successful leaders I know receive a lot of “thank you’s” from others that they have helped.

  • http://www.overviewpresentation.com/ KJ Kilroy Was Here Networking!

    Kilroy Was Here Networking…”When we lead by example people will follow by choice.”…“The first rule in my Rulebook is that my actions determine which rules I follow.” – K.J. Kilroy Was Here!

  • http://www.kristyblogs.com/ Kristy K

    I especially like #2. I’ve been in many situations where a leader won’t listen to anyone else because he/she has to be right all the time. This has almost always resulted in failure.

  • Brad Hillman

    I wonder about “Irrefutable Laws” and “musts” when it comes to leadership. What about a guy like George S. Patton. It seems to me that he refutes most of the rules and failed to come under the conditions you shared about good followers. Do you consider him and others like him to be a exceptions to the rules?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I don’t know enough about him to know. I think there are definitely exceptions. However, I would rather build my leadership and my life on those things that work most of the time.

    • Harvey75

      The problem with using an exception as something to follow is that you can never recreate all the variables that made the exception happen. Patton is a unique exception who could have easily failed by moving him a decade in either direction.

      The military teaches that great leaders started out as great followers. They also tell you to find the expert and listen to them. Then make your choice and be ready to stand by and accept the consequences good or bad. Patton can be used as an example of what not to do as often as he can be used as an example of what to do. This is why he is an exception to the rules.

      I just wouldn’t bet the farm that I could be that same exception, it’s good way to set yourself up for failure.

      • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

        I find it interesting that Patton died from an accident while still in Europe shortly after the war ended (a little over six months later). In fact, he was the only one seriously injured in the two-vehicle collision.

        My sense in all that is that Patton arrived on the scene at the right time and departed when his purpose had been fulfilled. At least, for me, there is a sense of divine providence, God’s timing, in Patton’s life.

        I join Harvey in the caution that Patton’s life should not serve as a model of leadership for the long haul.

  • http://pennyshire.wordpress.com Reflectionsbypj

    Thank you for writing this, I love this post! I appreciated that you place spiritual leaders and their followers, future leaders, as an example. This is indeed a reminder I needed today.

  • Joniames

    This is such a great spiritual truth. I worked for other ministries long before stepping out into my own. The Lord always let me know to that, to the degree I’d be willing to be faithful in that, He’d open the doors & even provide help for me in my own. We are not fit to graduate to the next level until we are successful with what is already loaned to us.

  • http://twitter.com/byrdmouse Jonathan Byrd

    Going back to biblical times for examples and following on your not-great followers made poor leaders, most of the Caesars only followed the previous emperor to gain what they could in order to make their own power play and become Caesar themselves. It was a success, but did not last.
    This also correlates to the NFL where it said that defense wins championships. In reality, a great defense may win one championship, but almost never wins another. To be consistently successful one has to have the complete package, both sides. The not-great followers achieved the top of the pile but were unable to maintain because their focus was on attaining the goal and not on being able to maintain the goal. Leaders have to have more then just the ability to be on top.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I think this is a void point.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FJRLITL5IEFHDDFURAESLXOOZ4 Jim Whitaker

    Perhaps one of Jesus’ most interesting statement was the last shall be first and the first shall be last. I think that this is especially true in leadership. If you do not have the humility to be able to be last then you can never understand fully the responsibility that is involved with being first. Part of the leadership folly that I made in the beginning of my work life was based on some bad advice that I was given from a previous leader. They told me that I had to stand out, work hard and make sure everyone knew how driven I was. That worked in the beginning, but soon it was clear that people did not appreciate that type of leadership style. Take that, a bruised ego and an encounter with God and my life started to change for the better (despite the fact that my career seemed to decline). I have changed my leadership style to a focus on me to a focus on others. I have found that the greatest leadership ability is to equip others to succeed. When others succeed, then you do. Think about the great coaches and how much time people spend talking about the other coaches that came from their system and how well they are doing. The ability to create leaders and equip people to succeed is much more important that succeeding personal. It is in the growth of others that we can truly be excited about the possibilities for that person and for oneself. At the end of the day in the moment of Jesus’ greatest suffering he chose others, over himself. He picked the needs of people who cared very little for him over his own personal needs. It was recognizing this, that helped me to move from a self-centered leadership to a leadership of others.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is an inspiring testimony. Thanks for sharing it.

  • David Manning

    On the point of “obedience”… In our company we talk a about “alignment.” Alignment to us is the notion that one can disagree, but agrees to align to and follow a directive for the good of the order. We even speak those words in meetings where you will hear, “I don’t agree, but will align,” or simply… “I align.” It is a good way of knowing where everyone is at and if the team can move forward from a contentious point.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      We do exactly the same thing. This is an important and powerful concept.

  • Yvonne

    Great post! My daddy used to say, “Too many Chief’s, not enough Indians.” This is much needed in today’s culture of everyone wanting to move to the top. Thank you!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. We need great followers as much—or perhaps more so—as we need great leaders.

  • Andyw

    Sounds like a great book idea…
    If you want to be a great leader, you must first become a great follower…history’s worst leaders never learned to follow

    Instead of “Follow the Leader”…”Follow to lead”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Excellent title.

  • Ann

    I just bought this book! So excited to start reading it….


  • Joel

    And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40

  • http://lindseynobles.com Lindsey Nobles

    A great reminder…thank you.

  • Ralph Stoever

    Another fabulous post, thank you.

    In the last few years, it has really dawned on me why it is important never to speak ill of anyone and not just leaders. Indeed, it is important not to gossip in order to build trust.

    As for disagreement, I like the military rule that everyone should speak up and share their knwoledge. However, once an order was given, it must be carried out by everyone. The team must pull together!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      The military also illustrates another principle: you don’t need agreement to create alignment. For example, a good commander will hear everyone out. Some may want to do X. Others may argue for Y. But when the commander says, “Here’s what we are going to do,” everyone aligns whether they agree or not (assuming it is not immoral.) Alignment with one’s leader is a decision.

  • http://www.nancyjcommunications.blogspot.com Nancy

    Interesting that I came across this post on leadership this morning. I awoke with the passage in Luke 7. on the Faith of the Centurion. He was a man who served in an authority position and was also under authority. The people trusted him and he trusted them to carry the important message and request to Jesus. Interesting thought trust combined with belief.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      The centurion is a great example.

  • http://www.synergysg.net David

    Great followers have abandoned themselves to their part in God’s larger story…dying to self, they have released their “need” to write their own smaller story

  • Marcos Perez

    Part of being a great follower, is knowing when and how to respectfully push back. Among the team I lead, the best result and highest productivity develops through team members who faithfully follow but also contend for what they believe is the best strategy, which is not always mine. The same holds true in settings where other department heads and I, are the followers. This of course, is only possible with the right leadership setting the tone. It won’t work if the leader doesn’t welcome it. Otherwise, it is a great environment to develop leaders in, within the context of following with clarity, obedience, humility and loyalty. Great post!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. I don’t want followers who are “yes” people. The key is to push back respectfully.

  • http://refreshmentrefuge.blogspot.com Gina Burgess

    A follower is Teachable…

    Before I became a manager, I soaked up as much knowledge as I could; and then I successfully applied it to my work. Before long, people were asking me “how do I…” questions which I gladly answered. It took a long while for me to realize that God had given me a great gift. Because of my knowledge, I became greatly respected among the other sales reps and when I was promoted, that respect was maintained and expanded.

    Moses was the most humble man in the world. Moses was also the greatest follower. He was totally out of his comfort zone when God called him which made him follow I AM’s guidance. Moses’ story proves there is no such thing as a Leader who is not a follower. There is a hierarchy in the heavenlies (Ephesians 6), just as there is hierarchy on earth. Some leaders choose to emulate other leaders’ practices; some follow astrology and other things; some choose to follow Christ’s leadership. Every leader is a follower of something.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      “Every leader is a follower of something.” So true.

  • Anonymous

    Who do I follow? I asked this and, of course, I thought of you. You are now one of my wife’s favorite people in the world because of your positive influence in my life (in other words, you tell me the same things she does).

    But I also thought of a person closer to home that I actually see and work with, our head football coach. We’ve had lousy seasons in recent years (although I’ve only been around for one season). I’ve said to him and others, “My goal is to make you coach of the year in our conference.”

    I get an opportunity to practice what you preach. Thanks for the excellent post and this morning’s moment of reflection. Well done!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I appreciate the encouragement!

  • http://www.theheartchurch.org Oshebar

    There are some great resources out there that have helped meunderstand this concept of following even more. Follower First by Dr. Rusty Ricketson and The Courageous Follower by Ira Chaleff are excellent tools for explaining what it really menas to be a follower. These books have revolutionized my thinking about what it means to be a follower and even a leader.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for these resources!

  • Lyndie Blevins

    They are also listeners. You have to hear what your followers/leaders are saying to be successful.

    By the way, I received my copy of Weird…. in the mail Saturday. Thanks for the book and I am looking forward to reading it.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You are welcome. I also agree that listening is an important skill—for followers and for leaders.

  • http://karlaokala.wordpress.com/ Karla

    I would add that these principles are not just important for individuals but also for the organizations in which they work, in order to create healthy leader-follower environments. When these principles are not valued by the organization itself, the environment becomes toxic. I once worked for a company where obedience was not valued and disloyalty was encouraged. My experience as both a leader and follower in this organization was miserable.

    • Anonymous

      Sounds like Russia under communism. A story shared during the Stalin years told about a boy named Pavel who fingered his farming parents for hiding a portion of their hard-earned harvest. He was, under that regime, a picture of a true patriot. The result of such stories was fear of those closest to you–friends, family members, neighbors.

  • http://RichardBurkey.wordpress.com Richard Burkey

    A great follower becomes a leader who develops leaders. A great follower passes the legacy / the faith on to the next generation, and keeps the vision alive. In the Bible of the book of Judges there are great leaders, but it gets lost in the next generation. While Peter and the apostles impact is still felt today, still reproducing.

    I think John Maxwell calls it being a leader who reproduces leaders who reproduce leaders and the development continues to grow.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, this is the 2 Tim. 2:2 principle.

      • Karl Mealor

        Love that verse. So thankful for those who have mentored me down through the years.

  • Anonymous

    The first book I read on Leadership (almost 20 years ago) was called “The Power of Followership: How to Create Leaders People want to Follow … And Followers who Lead Themselves” by Robert Kelly. He laid out 7 types of followers and discusses the myths of leadership. I found it insightful and really forged my leadership belief that leaders must be followers.

    7 Types of followers: Disciple, Mentee, Dreamer (they follow the dream, not necessarily the leader), Loyalist, Lifeway (people who follow out of personal conviction), Comrade, Apprentice.

    I loved 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Thank you for taking a chance with it.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I am not familiar with either of these books, Laurinda. I will have to look them up. Thanks.

      • Anonymous

        It’s one book with a very long title. Enjoy!

  • http://countingmyblessings.typepad.com/ Deb

    Thank you for this great reminder! I believe another quality important to both followers and leaders is that they are great encouragers.
    Then I told them that my God had been guiding me and what the king had told me. They replied, “Let’s begin to rebuild.” So they encouraged one another to begin this God-pleasing work. Nehemiah 2:18

  • Riznijustman

    While Elisha performed more miracles than Elijah, Elijah is more talked about even to this day. While Joshua led the children of israel into the promise land, Moses is the one who more ppl recognize. And while the disciples went on to build the first mega church, Jesus, to this day has ppl asking, “what would Jesus do”. Can u tell me the leaders of these great men? The greatest leaders beget other great leaders who follow them. They were never followers of anyone but God (in Christ’s instance, He is God).

  • Davidsteunenberg

    Totally agree! How can you lead if you do not know how to follow. Leading is all about serving the needs of others which is learned and modeled by following. Great post.

  • http://cynthiaherron.wordpress.com Cynthia Herron

    Great followers are also great encouragers. They learn to take up the gauntlet while effortlessly inspiring others to do the same.

  • Anonymous

    They must be thick skinned and not easily offended.

  • Andy R

    So does a leader create followers or do they create disciples?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I am using the term interchangeably, though there are definitely nuances to each.

      • Andy R

        I guess it would depend on the leader and the relationship he has with those ‘under’ them.

  • http://profiles.google.com/tscott21 Taylor Scott

    Great post. The five characteristics are perfect, the most important being #1. Clear. The number one driver of performance is clear expectations. Leaders also must have a never ending positive, optimistic outlook in order to truly be great. Adversity will inevitably set in at the most inopportune times, and the great ones find a way to turn a negative into a positive, in such a way that draws the BEST out of people…leading. PMA – Positive Mental Attitude should be #6.

  • http://www.GoOneMoreStep.blogspot.com Taylor Scott

    Great post. The five characteristics are perfect, the most important being #1. Clear. The number one driver of performance is clear expectations. Leaders also must have a never ending positive, optimistic outlook in order to truly be great. Adversity will inevitably set in at the most inopportune times, and the great ones find a way to turn a negative into a positive, in such a way that draws the BEST out of people…leading. PMA – Positive Mental Attitude should be #6.

  • Brent Trickett

    I would add that followers need to be aligned as well. I work in a non profit and I find that there are some who like to use organizations for their own gain. They may say they are committed to the same ideals or vision but in reality they are building something completely different. A good follower needs to be honest about why they are there and what they wish to get out of the relationship.

  • Anonymous

    I believe that “they are clear” is a challenge to both the leader and the follower to have a continued conversation on what that means. As with any relationship the leader/follower one is dynamic, changing often. To make it as effective as possible the dialog around the relationship ‘guardrails’ must continually be discussed.

    Thanks for another great post.

  • http://profiles.google.com/revedblonski Ed Blonski

    Great point about being a follower! This is something I cover in “Leadership from the Biggest Brother” http://www.truemen.org/leadership.html

  • Bwenman

    A couple of years ago my daughter, who was at that time a Senior in High School, was writing an essay on Leadership. I have always “pushed” her to be more of a leader because I always thought she had potential, but not as much confidence. She wrote a great essay on why great leaders need to know when to follow. It was awesome and I learned that we can learn more from our children than they can learn from us sometimes! She has since grown into a variety of leadership positions and she remains humble, thoughtful and inclusive. I wish more leaders understood this concept!

    • Karl Mealor

      Have you thought about having her post it somewhere online? I’d love to read it!

  • http://www.theanimusproject.com Jamie O’Donoghue

    One of my favorite books on ‘followership’ is ‘In Search of Timothy’ by Tony Cooke. The opening chapter will change anyone’s perspective on leadership and how important it is to be an excellent follower. I won’t ruin the punch but if you could read that opening chapter you’d know what I mean.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for the recommendation. I am intrigued!

      • http://www.theanimusproject.com Jamie O’Donoghue

        You’re welcome. I’d be interested to hear what you think if you get a chance to read it.

  • http://LiveIntentionally.org Paul Steinbrueck

    Mike, I think it’s also critical for leaders to understand the leader-follower dynamic from the follower’s perspective so they can incorporate that into their leadership. As a follower you have some leaders who communicate well and others who don’t. You have some leaders who appreciate their followers and others who don’t. You have some who cast a clear vision and others who don’t. You see the various ways leaders include their followers in their decision making process. Then as a leader you can try to avoid the mistakes you’ve seen in other leader and try to emulate their good leadership qualities.

  • http://twitter.com/brandonavance brandon avance

    True about Joshua, Elisha and Peter. What about the true leaders like Abraham, Father of Faith, Moses, Following God’s call, and Paul, author of half the NT. The leaders of those guys.

    Abe, Moses and Paul weren’t following ANYONE but God. Rebels, in their own right. They would do anything to answer GOD’S call and no one else’s.

    I agree a leader must follow, the ONLY one worth following and a good mentor’s always nice. Thanks for a great article!! Excited to read more of your blog.

  • http://www.DonnaWilsonsWorld.com DLWilsonsWorld

    I love this! We must lead by our own example, & get involved with our team. The Bible gives us so many great examples & lessons. Talking without “walking the walk” is useless. Roll up your sleeves, get in the trenches & get dirty. That’s how to inspire; give of yourself, teach by “doing the work” & make positive changes in our World!

  • http://www.irunurun.com Travis Dommert

    Expanding on the important point of LOYALTY…

    I would suggest that great followers not only tote the party line, they also persevere…i.e. loyalty isn’t terribly impressive if it is situational or short-lived. Loyalty through the tough times speaks VOLUMES.

    We work with a great group here in Atlanta called Leaders Lyceum; they teach that Elevated Leadership comes from (challenge and contradiction over time) x perseverance. Without perseverance, we don’t grow.

    Persevering as a leader is tough and admirable, but persevering as a *follower* is monumentally tougher, takes faith, and shows, builds, and tests character.

  • Joe Lalonde

    There’s some great insights there! I love the idea that great leaders are/were followers at one point. And it makes sense. I see a lot of young people not wanting to take this step and follow someone. I think they see it as a weakness or it’s not a respectable spot. But with following someone, you can gain wisdom.

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      Tons of application here for youth ministry!

  • http://www.happinesshereblog.blogspot.com Jennifer

    Thank you so much for this article. We never – ever – hear about the importance of being a good follower, unless it’s in reference to following Jesus. =) Sharing this right now.

  • http://profiles.google.com/audrakrell Audra Krell

    I had a fantastic woman mentor once who always said that “no one can lead a grumbler”. So, to be a good follower, you must not be a grumbler. This is true in marriage as well, a husband cannot lead effectively if his wife is grumbling all the time.

  • Keith

    Great point….I always say, “You start with FOLLOWSHIP before you enter into LEADERSHIP.”

    Keith Johnson has a free “The Art of turning Dreams into Realty” eBook and a one hour seminar download. Free Confidence Building Resources

  • Deanna

    Thank you for your wise words on leadership.

    I believe, great followers keep their hope in the Lord and not people.

    While I want to be a great follower to my earthly boss, I try to remember to keep the pressure off and not expect her or him to be my personal “god’ who can advance me.

    Zech 4:6 stays on my computer and reminds me that my success, ultimately will come by God’s spirit.

  • http://twitter.com/BrettVaden Brett Vaden

    I am a leader in my church, but it’s felt very lonely. I know that’s partly my fault, having sectioned myself apart from others; not showing the real me out of a sense of propriety and of wanting to be a good example. I sense from this post that I need to be a better follower (of my fellow leaders and mentors) by opening myself up for their eyes to see.

  • http://twitter.com/ConnieMcKnight Connie McKnight

    Michael, I absolutely agree. Once you find a great leader that you want to emulate, you need to show him/her the respect they deserve. You do this by following the points you outlined as the characteristics.

    You have to be willing to learn and this means asking questions.

    I think it’s easy to be a good follower when you admire the leader and get your ego out of the way.


  • Guest

    Perhaps, this could be under #4: A great follower would not be afraid to introduce his/her shining subordinates to the boss. They should keep the boss’ best interest in mind about who could be helpful to the boss. If someone is insecure to do so, they may not be leader material anyways. Kind of like John the Baptist.

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  • Otai samuel

    I believe a rightful leader, has his footsteps identical to his followers, so long as he is moving forwards towards a rightful cause. Sam Otai

  • Shaintscruffy

    i don’t have an answer for the question but i can at least confirm your suspicions with evidence from the construction world… i’ve been a carpenter for eighteen years and worked for six bosses, which in construction terms is an aberration. The trend is to move on from job to job. To the point that the mortgage companies, though they like to see you established in one job for at least five years when applying for a loan, when it comes to construction they just want to see that you’ve been in only one trade… the number of different companies in your wake doesn’t matter. There are few guys that can stick it out in one place. This is partly because of the shiftlessness of many of my brethren that have pooled in the trades but it is also due, i think, largely because of the immense egos of the most of the men who start their own companies. With the exception of only one that i can remember, they were all men who just couldn’t work for someone else. They had to have things their own way and weren’t particularly inclined to share.

    Which i guess leads me to an answer to the question of what other characteristics make good followers…
    Longsuffering. One should have a firm belief that his treasures are earned and stored elsewhere so that when they don’t receive them here they aren’t too disappointed.

  • http://www.saltandsparkle.com Nicky Cahill

    Hello Michael,

    What a powerful post – I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, as I have been enjoying reading all your posts. You have so many wonderful things to share, and I am grateful, and thankful that you chose to share them here on your blog. I especially am looking forward to working through your ‘Life Plan’ outline. As I began to feel that I should write a blog, I found your posts very helpful, and interesting, in that they gave me much food for thought. After much prayer, and preparation, I launched my blog at the beginning of this month, and I am very excited about it, and writing each day.

    Having been a successful leader in many things throughout my academic career. A few years after graduation, I could not understand – with the arrogance of youth – why I wasn’t in a position of leadership. I’d had wonderful prophetic words that said I was a leader, I had been on leadership training courses, but yet, I wasn’t a leader yet, and I wondered why.

    Gently, ever so quietly, God began to pinpoint things in my life that needed to be explored, giving me room, and grace to grow. As I began to explore these things I realised that everywhere He lead me, was one step closer to the position of leadership he had for me. He was nurturing me, watering and tending to my life, as I pushed through many things, like the bulb that reaches for the light before blooming into flower; I began to understand that God was teaching me to be the leader he wants me to be, one with grace and humility, one with understanding, and wisdom – one who doesn’t make rash decisions, one who is humble, and knows how to be a servant. Your post really encouraged me and I felt God speaking to me through it, showing me how far He has taken me over the past number of years, and I felt his encouragement for what has to come. Thank you.

    Interestingly, as I pondered your words, I came across this talk on Ted, which I thought you might find interesting.


    Thank you Michael.


    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I will take a look at this video. I have really enjoyed the TED videos I have watch in the past.

      • Karl Mealor

        Have you ever attended one live? I’ve always wondered what that would be like.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          No, I have not. However, I have been tempted.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal


      It’s taken a few days to watch the video but appreciate the link. One line stands out to me and was worth my time. General McChrystal shared a lesson he learned after failure and being encouraged afterward by his commanding officer. “Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”

      A leader wants to create an atmosphere where people are encouraged to try, fail, get up, and try again.


  • http://helengullett.com HMGullett

    I believe that God has called us to be godly leaders and shine the light on Jesus as the Ultimate Leader. I am blessed with your post. Would you mind if I translate it into Indonesian and share with my friends?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Please feel free to do so.

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    So true. That’s why I have always love the concept of the “Second Chair” leader. Second Chair leaders follow the leader, support the leader, learn from the leader and do whatever they can to help make the leader better… because they know that in doing so they are not only helping the organization in which they lead but also helping themselves become better leaders as well.

  • Christina Parker

    I believe a good follower needs to be teachable. Sometimes leaders can have the attitude that they know it all. This makes them pompous and ineffective as a leader. Teachablility means the person is open to more ideas and has the courage to embrace these new concepts even at the risk of failure.

    • Karl Mealor

      Totally agree!

  • Karl Mealor

    Love this. I’ve always tried to be a good follower, sometimes to a fault. Thank God for those under my authority who model exactly what you discuss. Some of them are already great leaders; some are headed in that direction.

    Great post. Thanks.

  • http://www.100memoirs.wordpress.com shirleyhs

    Here’s another TED talk that really explains the crucial role of the follower: http://www.clicker.com/web/ted-talks/derek-sivers–how-to-start-a-movement-827287/

    You may have seen the video of one man dancing that turns into a whole hillside of dancers? The video explains how impossible it would have been without the courageous leader and his equally courageous first follower.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      In three minutes, the video showed the importance of second fiddle and the momentum gained because of a single follower. Thanks for sharing.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I loved that video.

  • http://www.johngallagherblog.com John Gallagher


    I think great followers are teachable. They know they don’t have all the answers.

  • raphiepg

    Teachable… good followers like good leaders must be teachable… willing to learn from anyone not ever feeling that they have arrived.

  • http://www.adjuvancy.com/wordpress Roy A. Ackerman, Ph.D., E.A.

    Sorry, I am so late commenting and reading, but the holiday intervened. This is a fantastic post. And, I would love to see your research on the development of tyrants (now that you are retired :-) ). It goes along with a posting on YouTube I saw about Leadership, Movements, and First Followers. (I have nothing to do with its development; just passing this along… http://bit.ly/i1NvUD) I think Leadership and First Followers have a great deal in common- and that’s how movements get started. The difference between a leader and a first follower is that the leader has articulated the idea clearly first- and can be the first follower next time just as easily.
    Thanks for the wonderful lesson, as usual.

  • http://twitter.com/BobEwoldt Robert Ewoldt

    I think one of the qualities of a leader (that kind of goes long with humility) is teachability. Leaders know the areas in which they aren’t experts, and readily accept instruction in those areas.

  • dave

    I usually do not comment on blog post, but I enjoyed this post very much. It resonated with me because as an ex-pastor I has seen a lack of focus on following in the church and everything focused on leading. It reminded my of a book by my friend Rusty (Dr. Ricketson) called FollowerFirst. A good book that tries to elevate follower and leader into a dance of equal proportion.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I think we need some balance here. Jesus mostly talked about being a disciple—or follower.

  • http://www.learning-leadership.com Learningleadership

    According to me it is very essential part of the leadership only the Great Followers are Best Leaders.

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    It may have already been stated, but I think being a team player is crucial to being a great follower.

    Great stuff here. Thanks for posting!

  • http://ashleyscwalls.wordpress.com Ashleyscwalls

    I defintely agree that leaders need need to know when to follow. Part of that is doing research. By simply researching what has been done before you, you are following and preparing to lead.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      You make a solid and wise point in referencing research. By doing the research, a person recognizes he or she needs to follow sound advice, to absorb the thoughts and ideas of others, and to process and hold on to that which is helpful. Good observation.

  • Darrell Darnauer

    This is so basic but it’s incredibly profound! Jesus submitted to His Father. How much more do we need to follow and honor our leaders and then as we learn to follow them so we might become effective leaders by following them. When we serve we can then become servant leaders. My book will be titled “The Greatest Rule To Great Leadership – Follow First”
    Thank you Michael!
    – Darrell Darnauer

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    I listened to “A Minute with Maxwell” this morning and John spoke about “adaptability.” His comments illustrate a leader who fellows. Here’s the link for a wonderful illustration of a man who speaks on leadership but also follows:


  • http://jornadadeumlider.com Fernando Almeida

    Any Christian Leader knows that he/she is ultimately a follower of Jesus. A leader who cannot follow cannot be trusted as a reliable person to be followed. One needs to set the example for our followers.

  • Adonis Lenzy

    I totally agree on the importance of being a great follower. Before Jesus ever said, “Go ye into all the world”, He first said, “Follow Me”.

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  • http://twitter.com/SarahM58 Sarah M

    My husband and I are currently living with our kids at my parents house while we get back on our feet.  My husband has learned to become my leader, but he also follows the rules laid out by my folks and works to some degree under my father.  I have noticed a renewed humility and servant-hood in his leadership.  http://www.keepmarriagealive.com/saving-my-marriage/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000675855246 Ma Elena Santos

    I love to read and share materials like this. Thank you 

  • http://www.facebook.com/genebads Eugene Bade

    “ A good leader understand the challenges and is prepared to stand up and make a difference!”

  • Sarah

    It helps when the followers have enough leadership of their own to get to work on time. 

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  • Jelud1

    moses is said to have been the most humblest men in the bible. But god made him become a leader for one of the greatest migrations of all time

  • Donm

    I see that the comments on this post mostly go back about 7 months.  Sorry I missed it back then as I had something relevant to say.  So I put in in a book called Follow to Lead, the 7 principles to being a great follower.  It will amplify much of what has been stated here and it is directly in line with what Michael has also posted.
    I hope you are not offended by a promotion of the book; I see so much interest in the topic that I wish all of you could share it.

  • Jason Tan

    Came across an article regarding ‘Leaders and Followers.’ Worth a read! 

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  • 7 of 9

    Followers are principled, courageous and compassionate. They will speak up and tell the truth even when its difficult when they beleve the leader is off track or doing something harmful to themselves and others. They are compassionate in their delivery and their understanding that the leader is human and comes with a full package of shortcomings as well as brilliance.

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  • sjjjjjejjjjjx

    But there are follower, so leader can exsist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.mercer.10 Don Mercer

    The book Follow to Lead [www.follow-to-lead.com] answers the question you posed: How can I be a better follower?  It is kprinciple based through an unforgetable fable, outlines exactly what behaviors are critical and how to perform the, provides a lessons-learned section for leaders and describes how to implement a Followership Culture within any organization.
    It is a brief book [121 pages] for busy people who want just the nuggets so they can start Monday morning.

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  • Jon Morale

    What else does it take to be a great follower? They are also “GIFTED” with a unique capacity that fits them (the follower) with the LEADER. Eliazer to Abram( before the promised son) Joshua to Moses, David to Samuel, Aaron to Moses.
    This type of FOLLOWER is a life committed individual seeking only the benefit for their leader.

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  • Russ

    While my boss has had two overseas holidays (courtesy of the company) in this last month, I think I might focus on self improvement!

  • http://leadershipskillshq.com/ LeadershipSkillsHQ

    You cannot be a good leader if you are not a good follower. Before someone emerges to become a great leader, he must have an excellent training ground where he could acquire the necessary skills of an ideal leader. And there is no shortcut way of doing this, but only by becoming a good follower. You can become an outstanding leader only if you have the humility to allow someone “higher” than you to mentor and hone your skills and talents. I’d like to share this article that talks about ten leadership qualities every leader must possess- http://leadershipskillshq.com/the-top-10-leadership-qualities

  • Susan Marie Jones


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  • Dave Warner

    They, we, me dont have an agenda. We are not using the leader to get ahead. That would be misplaced goals
    We are thankful. We recognize the favor recieved from serving and are appreciative and do not take it for granted

  • Michael R Cooley

    I think the best comments and principles on being a follower come from those who lived it and had successful careers using those principles. Heard of Truett Cathy? He had a “chief follower.” Yes, the third non-restaurant employee he hired, Jimmy Collins was president and COO of Chick-fil-A for 32 years, but never called himself a leader, only a follower. He can explain how the dynamic relationship between leader and follower work. He’s written a book about it called Creative Followership: In the Shadow of Greatness.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jmaart/ Joel Maart

    Excellent thoughts and I appreciate the Biblical references. I completely agree.
    I would add that I feel leaders who are good followers will generally be more empathetic of their employees which can result in a deeper connection and trust between the two parties. I have seen people in leadership positions who are not good followers or they have forgotten how to be a followers. Their leadership effectiveness was limited and the level of trust from their followers was almost nonexistent. Humility is key.