The Leader-Follower Relation
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”- Steve Jobs
What really makes a leader? Is it a title? Authority? Seniority? Having employees, followers? Reaching milestones at work, having a higher salary, having a team to give orders to?
We have discussed some of the most crucial skills for any leader in previous articles, but now we need to focus on what really makes a leader or a follower. Leadership and followership truly are mindsets which need to be explored in order to fully understand.
As the late visionary Steve Jobs once said, innovation is definitely (one of) the key ingredients to successful leadership. Is it the only thing distinguishing between the two, though? Innovation is nothing, if it isn’t shared. Not in the long term, at least. What any successful leader needs to do is inspire people, not only through words, but through actions as well.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams
And this is the most crucial point. But how do leaders achieve this?
While followers may be very good at their jobs, they usually don’t go above and beyond. Leaders, on the other hand, will go the extra mile, even without a metaphorical carrot dangling in front of them. A leader needs to tap into an intrinsic motivation deep inside them, which will push them forward and keep them going, even, and especially, in the face of adversity.
Confidence is another one of the key concepts. While many may believe leaders should always be 100% confident and self-reliant, the opposite is actually true. One trait of a true leader is the ability to admit their limits, and ask for help. True leaders don’t see others’ abilities and skills as a threat, but an asset.
“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.” John C. Maxwell
What most of it comes down to, in the end, are the relationships a leader can build with his followers. Any good leader needs to be aware that, without others, they can’t achieve anything. A leader knows they can’t go far without a team that helps them achieve greatness.
And then, there’s accountability. It is impossible to talk about leadership and not mention this immensely important trait. While decision-making and problem-solving skills are essential, accountability is one of the core traits a leader must present, and it also shows another difference between leaders and followers. What happens when mistakes are made, when the team encounters failure along the way? It is all too easy to shift the blame. Only a true leader will accept accountability, admit mistakes, and find ways to turn the new obstacles into exciting challenges and opportunities for growth, while followers will be quick to let others make decisions so that, in case anything goes wrong, they have someone to blame.
There is a poem by Derrick Pereslucha which illustrates this characteristic beautifully:
Knowing ignorance can’t win
But shame will blame the system,
Of needing and knowing what’s right
Or what’s wrong, better saying.
As a leader not a follower
My strides have been set
To live my life with honor, no regret.
I push myself using all of my tools.
Physically I strive, mentally I’m better
But deprived from attitude is not too clever.
Leading with love and heart to play
– Derrick Pereslucha
It sums up many qualities of leaders, and it also draws our attention to how leaders should lead. There is no doubt that a leader has to inspire, motivate, innovate; be a visionary, communicator, facilitator… But it is all about HOW they do these things. The power to unlock our true potential is within each of us. We can learn how to identify our dreams, pursue them, and inspire others to share our vision.
Sure, innovation is important, as are all the other characteristics we have talked about so far. But only a true leader knows that, in order to achieve our dreams, we must lead the way by going the way. And how we lead is just as important as where we lead.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”- Maya Angelou.