supervisor explains to direct reports

Good Leaders are Good Followers

Good leaders are good followers. Most people will agree. We expect leaders to show the way. Leaders cannot wish us to follow if they don’t follow their leaders. They have to set examples. 

Good leaders are good followers. We learned this in schools. They preached this in churches. At first glance, there is no reason to disagree.

Until you witness a president and other public servants who violate safety protocols, or you know of a boss who follows policies only when it serves her purposes.

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Good leaders are good followers.

I can understand if a few will object. Rebels and revolutionaries have leaders too. By definition, they do not follow authorities. How can they be good followers?

But I won’t get there. Because for every rule, we can find few exceptions. As a rule, we can agree that good leaders are good followers. 

If you are an employee who wants to become a good leader, becoming a good follower is a practical step. I will explain this later.

If you are a manager, you ought to find and develop good leaders who are good followers. I will show you three ways.

But before that, let us agree first on what the maxim says.

This maxim implies the following:

  • Not all leaders are good leaders.
  • Leaders who are not good followers are not good leaders.
good leaders are good followers
Good leaders are good followers.

It does not say whether all followers will become leaders. Based on my experiences, followers do not always become good leaders. For me, that settles the issue. There is no need to debate.

It does not say that the only criterion for good leadership is good followership. And this is where you and I can build a better understanding.

Where will we start?

Start by defining what a good leader is. Unfortunately, the dictionary definition won’t help you much. At best, it can only suggest that a good leader is a leader who fits the role.

That means that a good leader in one role may not be a good leader in another. 

Set your criteria. 

For example, you can come up with a checklist like this:

  • Have advanced technical skills
  • Have experience in leading and mentoring more than 20 people in various capacities
  • Have demonstrated customer-centricity, agility, future-thinking, and concern for others.
  • Have shown coachability. 
  • Good follower.

A good leader has the traits and competencies necessary to get the job done and make change happen. That includes being a good follower.

What is a good follower?

Again, a dictionary cannot do the work for you.

Some leaders consider a “yes” person a follower. Tyrants believe a million minions “good followers” if they are willing to die for them. Tyrants do not see followers as leaders good enough to replace them. Therefore, they refused to be replaced.

Even in democratic countries, you have “followers” who patronize plundering politicians.

Do you know why the poorest municipalities do not build good leaders? Traditional politicians do not develop young people to become good leaders.

Good followers, in my definition, are leaders and not minions. It is not the leader they follow but what a leader represents. A good follower works for the greater good.

The former President Noynoy Aquino used to say, “Kayo ang boss ko.” That means he is a leader who is committed to following the will of the people so together we can create a future we care about.

He was not the boss of his cabinet secretaries, who were public servants. They served the people, not the President. 

Good leaders solve problems, find ways to serve better, and say no to the President when he needs to hear them say no.

Good followers do what is good for the organization, its employees, and customers.

* How do you define a good follower? Use the comment form below to share your thoughts.

leaders of leaders
Are you a good follower?

Not Easy to Become a Good Follower

Pasaway is a Filipino word we use to describe employees who consistently violate rules. They cut corners. They do not work when no one is watching. 

People have reasons. Good leaders understand this.

We are not sipsip. 

Good followers are often branded as sipsip or suck up to authorities. Filipinos hate the tag. A sipsip does everything to get a post no deserve. 

I understand that there are suck-ups. But to tag everyone who commits to working well stunt people’s growth. Those with high potentials find it risky to volunteer or take the initiative.

We give too much value to pakikisama. 

Pakikisama is an excellent Filipino value. We want to belong, so we do things that please co-workers. But, unfortunately, some employees look the other way when a co-employee violates rules. That’s because we want to maintain harmony in the workplace. 

Of course, this is a false harmony. You know something is wrong. But you are trapped. You want to follow, but people will ostracise you.

Trabaho lang. 

You are not heroic. You work because you are selling your skills per hour of work. This belief seems fair until we realize that some employees give 4 hours of productive work for an 8-hour salary.

They don’t think like leaders. 

They do not explore ways to help the organizations. Instead, if they have other choices, they’ll jump ship and swim to an island of plenty.

I can cite many reasons for Filipinos who are not good followers. I left clues on how they can be good leaders too.

But let us not commit a common mistake here. Being a good follower does not make one a good leader. It is just one criterion.

My claim is those good leaders are good followers. I know people who will do everything you tell them, but they stop when no one gives them orders. They are good followers. But, they don’t consider themselves leaders.

I have given you three reasons why people fail to become good followers. They move slow. They delay the growth of your organization. At times, they sabotage your chances of success.

You can fix that. You can change the culture of your organization.

* What are the biggest challenges you have in engaging your leaders? You can tell me. Send an email to inspire@jefmenguin.com

pick the best candidate. Pick good leaders.
Knowing why the purpose of your leadership helps you become a good follower.

Tips for Leaders of Leaders

If you are a manager, consider yourself a leader of leaders. That will be a good start. You are responsible for developing good leaders who are good followers. 

Hire good leaders who are good followers.

Look for ideal leaders, then hire good followers. A common mistake is to hire a “yes” person. If you hire someone who follows your every word, you do it for yourself, not for your business. 

Get good leaders first. Find out if they have the competencies and experience to get the job done in good times and bad. You cannot take easy on this. 

You can get 1000 followers who will say yes to every word you say. But a good leader who is a good follower can make good leaders and good followers too. 

They say no when what you need to hear is no.

They are multipliers.

Good leaders see opportunities in every situation. Then, they solve problems for you. 

Invest time in getting to know your candidates. Use behavioral interviewing so they can tell you their stories. By their answers, you will understand how they’ll work with you.

If you do it right the first time, you will save time and money too.

Champion good leaders who are good followers.

What you value gets rewarded. Your actions speak for you. 

What do you reward in your organization? Whose actions do you honor? Who among your leaders is doing it right?

Reward good leaders. 

Some organizations have loyalty awards. These awards usually go to employees who have been in the organization for X number of years. Loyal employees get it. Overstaying employees get it too. 

Do you get what I mean?

You can change the criteria of loyalty awards. Or you can replace it with something that honors good leadership. It is possible that you only need to revisit your criteria for rewards and recognition.

Enable good leaders.

Good leaders are self-leaders. They follow what they value.

So you can turn every leader into a good leader (and follower), be clear about your purpose. First, find out what leaders value. Then, sell the intention of your organization to leaders. Once they buy your corporate intention, it becomes theirs. 

Let them follow the purpose, not you.

Outside of your “strategic planning,” invest in culture shaping. Help your ideal employees work like owners. 

Find high-potential leaders who are coachable. Turn them into mentors. Show them how to set good examples for others to follow.

The purpose of your organization is what you follow, not your boss. 

If you are working in the government, keep in mind that your boss is another employee. I know that you have to play politics too. But you ought to keep your character intact. A good follower is someone who delivers even if no one is watching — and most especially if someone is watching.

If your purpose goes against your organization’s purpose, go somewhere else. You are a fish out of water. Go where becoming a good follower comes easy.

become a good follower to be a good leader
They follow those who show the way.

How to Become Good Followers

Good leaders are good followers. They pursue what is the greater good every time. They do what they do because of clear understanding, not blind obedience.

So, how do you become a good follower?

Think bigger. 

Figure out what your bosses want to achieve. You do not have to know what your CEO is thinking. Unless you are a mind reader, you cannot do that.

Study the business model of your organization — research how it earns money and customers. You can learn where your organization is leading some years from now. You will find this in corporate communications and speeches.

Go beyond your job description and mandate. Find out how your job serves the greater scheme of things. Doing this will help you “follow” with understanding. Finally, you know why you are doing what you are doing.

You can also walk the extra mile for your subordinates and bosses. You know what’s needed, and you will deliver.

You will not worry about people who think that you are a suck-up because you are not. You see the big picture, and they don’t.

Be the first follower.

You help shape your culture when you become the first follower. Set the examples for people to follow.

If you are a manager, sell the vision, mission, and values of your organization. Connect your team’s purpose to the purpose of the organization.

Be an evangelist. When you value excellence, you preach it. You will do your best to show what excellence is in action. You reward people for an excellent job and call people’s attention away from mediocrity.

You won’t speak ill of your bosses. Doing so will reduce trust and confidence. If you are courageous enough, tell your bosses what they need to hear. I know that the last one isn’t always easy. But if you cannot correct your bosses, at least show good examples.

Get the support of others.

The role of the first follower is to make other followers. Get the support of your peer. Collaborate with them. Explore ways that can help your organization grow.

If you are leading a team, identify those leaders who can help you set examples for others. Consider these an initiative or an action learning project. 

This is the positive essence of pakikisama. You bring people together to achieve excellence together.

Encourage others.

Employees need someone to encourage them. To be a good follower is not easy when everyone has a “trabaho lang” mentality. Our job can be a calling. It can be an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. But not everyone understands this.

To be a good follower is like swimming against the current. People need the courage to do this. 

It will be easier to get courage when you know being a good follower has many benefits. Sell the benefits. Show how helping the organization supports personal ambitions.

You can also encourage by training leaders. You begin by showing them how to think like business owners. Educate them about ownership and accountability. People, like plants, grow fast when they get good sunlight.

You can make these a team project too. People love to work with others. It is easier to swim against the flow when you see others doing the same. Find coachable individuals. Mentor them.

Give it your best shot every time.

Your best will not always be enough. But if you keep it a habit to giving your best shot every time, you’ll go beyond expectations.

When given a project, do it with zest. Find out how the project can serve your organization. Bring in people who do great works. 

When asked to lead a team, do not hesitate. Even if you do not have previous experience in leading teams, you can always learn. If you think that the job is challenging, do not shrink. Instead, improve your skills and find people who can help you.

Do not be late (or too early). Even if you are working from home, your employer expects you to work eight hours a day or get your job done. Set a time dedicated to your work. Serve your customers. Never be late. Be a good Filipino. Filipino time is being punctual.

When you find problems, go to your bosses with solutions. Some bosses like to micromanage. But they get tired too. But for most of us, we want leaders who do not escalate problems. We look for leaders who solve problems early and right.

If you have more suggestions on how to give it your best shot, find the comment section below.

In Summary

 A good leader has the traits and competencies necessary to get the job done and make change happen. That includes being a good follower. 

A good follower works for the greater good, not for gods. They are values-centered and purpose-driven. 

When you hire leaders, look for good followers. You can many have excellent technical skills, extensive experiences, and competence. Among them, choose good followers. 

Champion good leaders who are good followers. Make them examples to others, train them, and enable them to act. 

You can become a good follower inside your organization. Think bigger and know your business. Be the first follower and invite others to follow. Encourage others and give it your best shot every time.

When you need to develop good leaders, contact me. You can email inspire@jefmenguin.com.

Jef Menguin

Read also:

  • We need good leaders both in public and private sectors. But where can we find them? How are we going to know that they are good leaders? The post Good Leaders: Start Here, Now may provide you a hint.
  • One way to learn leadership is to start with principles. In 17 Principles for Leadership Success I shared some of the leadership principles that may help you get started. I recommend examine the principles to know if you have been applying them or you know leaders who exemplifies the application of each principle.
  • It is natural for people to expect to get. In Give 10x More, I advocate the importance of being a go-giver. To succeed we must give ten times more.
  • You must have heard of Bayanihan. Because of the pandemic, the President was given an emergency power. They called it Bayanihan 1. Now we have Bayanihan 2 too. Bayanihan is an excellent Filipino value which people can easily relate. However, the practice of the government corrupted the meaning of the word. For those who want the real essence of this cultural value, I encourage you to read Bayanihan: Culture That Turns Ordinary Filipinos into Heroes.

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