To Lead or Follow? Both!

The root of the word “leader” is “lead”, which means to go before or with to show the way; conduct or escort.  When we think of leaders, certain people come to mind for both good and bad reasons.  People like Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher, and Gen. George S. Patton are recognized as some of history’s most famous and influential leaders.  We also know who some of the most infamous and influential leaders (mostly dictators) are as well. 

A follower is defined as a person who accepts another as a guide or leader; accepts the authority of or give allegiance to, to conform to, comply with, or act in accordance with; obey: (to follow orders; to follow advice) or to imitate or copy; use as an exemplar (They follow the latest fads.).

They’re both equally important!  To become a great leader, you need followers.  Being a follower and part of the support network is crucial to the success of the leader.  Here are some quick tips on maximizing your potential as both a leader and a follower.

Embrace change.  As a leader, it’s important to embrace change.  Change is really the only constant.  Simply doing what worked in the past won’t take you to a new level of business or innovation.  Change is scary, but if you take it one step at a time, you’ll be more adaptable and able to use your flexibility to get ahead.  Job seekers – this applies to you as well as those of you that are gainfully employed. 

Accept feedback.  Want to know how you’re really doing?  Ask!  Asking for feedback on your leadership or the support that you provide is something that typically isn’t given too much thought.  If you’re doing a good job, people will tell you, right?  Don’t wait for something to go horribly wrong (believe me – they’ll let you know) to ask for constructive criticism.  When you get the feedback, resist the urge to get defensive.  You’ve put some hard work into the job search, your résumé or that special project.  Take a deep breath, go for a walk, or listen to music to calm you down and clear your head.  I’ve found that yard work (shh…don’t tell my wife) gives me time to not only think about feedback received, but also provides an atmosphere for creative thinking. 

Be authentic.  Be yourself.  Sounds cliché, but it works!  Authenticity goes a long way in the grand scheme of things.  Know what your goals are, what your personal brand is, and don’t be afraid to just be yourself.  Transparency is incredibly important, as is genuine authenticity.  If you say you’ll follow up, do it!  Be true to your word.  Not only will this build your personal brand, it will help build a positive reputation with your co-workers, peers, supervisor, friends and family. 

There are more suggestions.  If you’re interested, check out The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Follow by John C. Maxwell.  I just finished this book and highly recommend it!  For other book recommendations on leadership, job seeking, and some general life lessons, check out the Reading List tab above.

As always, thanks for reading.  Please feel free to comment below and share this post with others!


12 thoughts on “To Lead or Follow? Both!

  1. Kirk,

    Great stuff, as usual. Simple, thought-provoking and to-the-point. Your three points, added up, define engagement.

    Embracing change=moving forward. Resisting change=pain. (Choose the former.) Take feedback from others (With the assumption they are offering it to be helpful. This is usually true.) and Be real (Even if you are flawed. Everyone is.).

    Embracing change + Taking Feedback + Being Real = Engagement.

    In higher ed and in social media, we talk about this all the time. How good do you think we are at “walking the talk?” I wrote about this earlier this week at Higher Ed Career Coach. You seem like someone who would have good thoughts on this. If you like, please check out the post at and leave some comments. I’d also like to talk to you about maybe doing a guest post sometime. I like your stuff.



    1. Sean,

      Thanks for the kind words. We seem to share the same type of passion for helping other people. I’ll check out your blog and will be sure to leave comments where appropriate. I’m always looking for new ways to expand my knowledge base!



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