Leadership 101: The Art of Following
Are you in leadership? Are you striving for a leadership position?
Before you answer that question I want to preface this post by saying that this is written for the mother who changes diapers, the husband who has a wife and kids, the pastor, the CEO – and everyone in between. In other words, this post is for you. And I would venture to say that you may not even realize the degree of influence you have in the position you hold.
We all have a capacity to lead within our own sphere of influence.
But the key to leading well is determined by how well we follow.
To be an excellent leader there is often one mode of operand i that people overlook — and it’s the most essential one of all: the art of following. This is where excellent leadership truly begins. And while many of you may have a brow furrowed in quizzical jest, I promise to deliver evidence. By the end of this post, you’ll understand precisely why an excellent leader begins with an excellent follower.
Following is not merely an act of blind obedience. Jesus made it clear that if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit. So a leader must know who they are following if they’re going to lead. This requires vision and obedience. Christ said the greatest among us is the servant of all.
Learning to follow is not scripted. Following must come by choice as an act of free will. You choose whom you will follow. And from this fundamental truth, following well is based upon three primary principles which every great leader will demonstrate:
1.) SUBMISSION & SURRENDER: You have to know your superior.
2.) VISION & OBEDIENCE: You have to know why you’re following if you’re going to obey.
3.) SACRIFICE & SERVICE: Your heart must be centered in humility with proper motivation.
We’re going to address all three of these. But first, we’re going to take a look at the single most influential person who ever lived: the greatest and most excellent leader in all of human history.
Whether you believe in Him or not, it’s undeniable that His life changed the world. Hands down, He beats all. No doubt, He displayed miraculous power that had never before been accomplished on earth. But was this power, in itself, what made Him an excellent leader?
What made Jesus Christ an excellent leader was His ability to follow. He did precisely what His Father revealed and told Him to do – nothing more, and nothing less. He knew who He was, because He knew to whom He belonged. He knew His purpose, and therefore, He understood why He came. He knew His Superior intimately, and He maintained a oneness with His heavenly Father that gave Him the ultimate victory in manifesting Heaven on earth. Jesus Christ performed the perfect will of God on earth as it was in Heaven – every single moment of every solitary day during His earthly life. He didn’t miss a beat.
The only reason Jesus Christ was able to lead the masses back home to His Father was because of His intimate relationship with Him. It was a cooperative effort requiring remarkable unity.
When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him (John 8:28-29, KJV).
The art of following can be summarized in one word: OBEDIENCE. Those who understand who they follow, and why they are following them, are endowed with an ability to do so wholeheartedly. In turn, there is an intrinsic motivation of belief that empowers them to influence and motivate others toward that same following as we see with Christ’s disciples.
Obedience is not difficult when you know your superior has your best interest at heart.
Jesus didn’t need to manipulate, coerce or control despite the fact that all the powers of heaven and earth were at His command. Instead, He used that power to serve others. He did what He was told and demonstrated who the Father was to the people. He followed with excellence in forgiving sin, healing the sick, liberating captives, raising the dead, and faithfully preaching the Gospel truth to everyone willing to hear. He finished the race well, having completed the task given Him in sacrificing Himself for the sin of mankind.
When people are free to choose whom they serve (follow), obedience comes naturally. We don’t follow people we disagree with or plan to rebel against. It’s against our nature. Therefore, to follow with excellence, obedience is necessary and expected. And you can’t be obedient to someone you despise or disagree with unless you are being manipulated or controlled.
With that being said, Jesus never forced anyone to follow Him. And He certainly didn’t go chasing after those who chose not to. Following must come by free will. You choose whom you follow.
If you don’t know who you’re following or why you’re following them, you’ll never be able to convince your subordinates or empower them to do the same.
Submission & Surrender: Know Your Superior
Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you (John 15:14-15, KJV).
An excellent leader must be worthy of following. It all begins with relationship. You’ve got to know your superior if you’re going to surrender and submit to their leadership. In fact, I caution you: never submit to an authority you don’t know. That’s foolish. Take the time to research and investigate before you sign up. And if you do sign up, take initiative in getting to know your boss within the given professional setting. I’m speaking of your immediate superior or supervisor. There needs to be an open-door policy for the working relationship to be successful.
Everyone has a superior to whom they are accountable. You receive orders which you are expected to follow. Even when you’re at the very top, there are those above you who influence your decisions. In a pyramid structure they’re at the very bottom. Your customers become your largest most influential factor in the decisions you make and the strategies you employ. Because without them – you don’t eat, and neither does anyone else.
So if any of us are going to lead, we all must learn to follow first.
Remember, you choose whom you follow. Once you’ve established who your superior is, it’s time to discover the game plan. Because if you can’t agree with the game plan… game’s over.
Vision & Obedience: Get in the Game
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also (John 15:18-20, KJV).
Now that you know your superior, as a subordinate you’ve got to get in the game. This requires VISION and OBEDIENCE. You know what is expected of you and why. And when you don’t, you take responsibility and initiative to find out, and you play your part with respect to the other players. This is a team effort. Know your boundaries and do your part. There will always be those above you and beneath you. Everyone has a role to play, and to play effectively, they have to understand the game and be motivated to play. That motivation has to be more than extrinsic (rewards, benefits, pay, etc.). People need to know they are valued and appreciated. When people are valued, motivation becomes intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is the most powerful motivation there is — and it is stimulated by a sense of worth, value, and purpose.
When people are valued, praised, and appreciated their performance level peaks.
Your single most important motivating factor must be intrinsic: You must truly believe in the purpose of the game and the strategy in playing it or your performance will eventually suffer. That is what vision is all about. When you sign on, you’re not just accepting a position. You’re saying, “I want to play the game – and I plan to help you win it.”
So how do you accomplish that? It’s very simple: Obedience.
Obedience is not just doing what you are told. It’s doing it well and with integrity. In the business world this is known as “performance”.
Although you may not be in a “leadership” position by rank or seniority, you still lead in the position you’re in through your level of performance and your sphere of influence. There is an inherent stewardship with the role you play and how it affects other team players, including those above you, beside you, and beneath you. (For more on this topic please see the post Above, Beneath, & Beside: Achieving Your Optimal Potential). Your position is strategic. Never underestimate it. You lead well by following with excellence and demonstrating a concerted effort toward the common goal. Understanding that central goal is the key to following with excellence. If you can’t fundamentally agree with the vision, mission and strategy, your success will eventually be hindered or impeded.
An excellent LEADER (superior) will always empower their followers (subordinates) by granting them vision, while supporting their ability to attain it.
An excellent FOLLOWER (subordinate) will always lead through their excellent performance.
Sacrifice & Service: The Motivation
Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; he riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded (John 13:3-5, KJV).
So you want to lead? Then get ready to serve. The higher you climb, the more you will sacrifice. Get ready to give and be poured out.
Servanthood is at the heart of every true leader, and is ear-marked by a spirit of humility. Our opportunity to serve others is a humble honor which should be our driving force behind getting out of bed every day. And if you’re going to serve well, “selfish” has no place.
Christ’s life of service and sacrifice was marked by humility. He was a humble servant. He understood His reliance upon His Father and took no glory for Himself. We are called to do likewise.
While everyone must work to eat, there has to be a greater purpose in your job than a paycheck. People that work just to live for themselves are never fulfilled, regardless of the wage. Despite their earnings their lives are often empty, shallow and unfulfilled. We were created to serve others with our gifts and talents. In this way we expand beyond ourselves as we touch the lives of those around us. We literally multiply. The difference we make in others lives empowers them to do the same. The exponential power of serving is so far-reaching it’s immeasurable. Because once we’re gone, the impact we’ve made lives on – just like the falling domino you see depicted. All we have to do is our part. That is our responsibility. The rest falls into place as each successive person does their part in turn.
People serve best when they are able to use their natural talents and gifts. The more autonomy granted to them, the better they will perform (serve).
An excellent leader will recognize the strengths of their subordinates and delegate appropriately.
Jesus Christ did not come to be served, but to serve. He gave us an example by which to live our entire lives – in every arena, whether at home, at work, or at play. When we live unto ourselves, we wither and die. But when we serve others we live far beyond ourselves. When we understand our fundamental purpose in this earth, we are liberated to do what God created us to do, and we fulfill our purpose and destiny. As unique individuals, that destiny and purpose can never be duplicated.
Those who serve lead with excellence by setting an example of self-sacrifice.
Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one anothers feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them (John 13:12-17, KJV).
Many times serving others is not glamorous. In fact, it’s often a thankless, dirty, and unrecognized job or position. Whether you’re a mother, a father, a nurse, or a housekeeper, most of us can relate. Serving others is about sacrifice and humility – not rewards, titles, and glamour. A true servant is not motivated by what they can get out of serving. They are motivated by what they can give to others.
Jesus gave His life. Yet before doing so, He did something that was completely unexpected and utterly beneath Him. He disrobed, donned a towel, prepared a basin of water, and knelt before the dirty, tart, stinky feet of His disciples. In the washing of His disciples’ feet, Christ demonstrated how to handle the sin and filth of others appropriately. He became intimate with it. He touched it. And He removed what would have otherwise separated them from Him. When we serve, we must be willing and capable to handle the grit and filth of others properly. Sometimes our journeys are messy. We trip, we stumble, and we fall.
When we wash a person’s feet we become intimately acquainted with their personal journey in removing the debris they accumulated.
Foot-washing was a service commonly practiced when visitors entered a person’s home. Guests were given water to wash their feet, or their feet were washed by hired hands. To neglect a guest’s feet was to snub them, and was considered horribly rude, especially after a long dusty journey in the desert. However, for the host to personally wash the feet of their guest, this was the most lowly and humble of all tasks one could possibly perform.
An excellent leader who follows well will embrace the heart of a servant who is willing to wash the feet of others, bringing a cleansing that enables them to walk worthy of the calling God has given them. They see beyond that individual’s current state to the potential they are capable of achieving if their feet were properly cleansed. An excellent leader will always be mindful of their own journey and the trials they’ve overcome, giving grace and mercy to others when they need it.
If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me (John 13:8, KJV).
Whenever possible, an excellent leader does not remove the person.
They remove the dirt.
Leadership: Creating a Following
Here is where it comes full circle. Your ability to follow and obey your superior will determine your ability to lead your subordinates. An excellent follower will naturally create a following. If you can’t obey your superior (for whatever reason), then don’t expect your subordinates to either. The respect you reflect will be the respect that is paid.
Jesus Christ obeyed His Father perfectly. He lived a sinless life. That obedience reflected upon His Father, giving others an accurate glimpse of Him who was otherwise unseen. Through Jesus Christ the Father burst forth with vivid clarity.
If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him… he that hath seen me hath seen the Father… (John 14:7 & 9, KJV).
I and my Father are one (John 10:30, KJV).
His portrayal was so illuminating and convincing that it changed the entire world. Jesus Christ and His twelve disciples turned the world upside down and inside out. He did precisely what His Father called Him to do: He brought His lost children back home to Him. How did He do it?
He followed Him in unwavering obedience.
And because Christ followed His Father, the disciples were empowered to follow Christ. And because they followed Christ, others were empowered to follow Him as well.
To the degree that you follow — to that degree you will lead.
Excellent leaders begin with excellent followers.
Jesus Christ was an excellent leader because He was an excellent follower. As you can see excellent followers are excellent leaders, and vice-versa. This circle of success supports everyone. When choosing a candidate for leadership one may question, “How well can you lead?” That can only be answered when they know to ask, “How well can you follow?” That is the key that will ultimately determine your success.
Cheers & Shalom,