Want to be a great leader? Then learn how to be a great follower…


American society is obsessed with trying to teach people how to be great leaders.

For some, leadership is a skill that seems to be inherent in their personality.  Charismatic leaders like Colin Powell or Martin Luther King Jr. seem to have always been masters at this elusive craft we call leadership, but even these dynamic personalities were followers at some point in their lives.

In the military, we tend to fill the role of leader and follower at the same time, so it only makes sense to hone our followership skills along with our leadership skills. In fact, most of the skills needed to be a great leader are inherent in the skills required to be a great follower. There are an infinite number of traits that would serve well.

First, be a team player. Make an effort to work with others and find solutions that may not always be exactly what you wanted, but in the end, serve the best interests of all those involved. If you fall on your sword on every issue, it will be difficult for those around you to know what is really important. If you try to stand alone and bark orders, you may find yourself still standing there alone without anyone to lead.

Second, be a critical thinker and lean forward.  Always try to anticipate problems and come up with solutions before being asked. You can’t grow as a leader if you are always waiting for someone to tell you what to do and how to do it. When you see a problem, step up and make sure it gets fixed, because I guarantee no one else will. If your boss notices it, they will wonder why they had to tell you to do it in the first place.

Finally, as a follower, be courageous. Leaders are not looking for people to tell them what we think they want to hear, they want to know they are surrounded by people willing to call them out when they are heading in the wrong direction. Sometimes that may put you in an incredibly uncomfortable position and you may not always be right, but a good leader will appreciate the feedback.

Being a team player, critical thinker and courageous are just a few of the traits that will help you succeed as a follower and eventually, prepare you to step up into a multitude of leadership roles. The next time you are looking for a good book on how to be a great leader, I suggest you check out some books on how to be a great follower as well.