Influencing Followers Versus Influencing Leaders

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Our focus in this class is personal development coupled with leadership principles rather than only talking about leadership principles because when someone is maturing and developing on a personal level, it will become apparent and effective in and through their leadership. By teaching it this way, we get more of a well-rounded effect and it will begin to make more sense to us as we grow and develop into a completely different person than we were before, or as the Hebrew writer Paul put it, “a new creation” (2nd Corinthians 5:17). In short, we want personal development and authentic leadership to be part of who we are (our identity) and not just something we do (temporary actions).

The questions to keep in mind as we go through this study are: Where do we most naturally operate and fit in? Where do our most natural tendencies lead us to focus?

Followers and Leaders: There is a Difference

I’d like to start by dispelling the mythical notion that we are all the same. Other than our intrinsic human value as people with our same basic human needs, we are not all the same. We all come from different backgrounds, different upbringings with different expectations, different thought patterns, from different parts of the country and the world. Our very DNA shows how different we all really are. There is no “cookie-cutter” way of influencing people and once we can accept this very natural and very real fact of life, we will be able to influence people in a far more effective way.

When we say “follower” and “leader” we are not placing any person above or below another or saying that either one is better or more important than any other. We are all different and have our different talents, callings, and purposes! What we do mean is those who are more minded, or have more of a tendency, toward following or leading. You must pay attention to these differences if you are to have the best chances to influence people.

Influencing Followers

            Again, I’ll point out, that when we say “follower” we’re not talking about some lower life form who can barely make it without the help of some heroic leader showing them the way. We are talking about those who are follower-minded, or have a tendency to fade into the background while others take the lead. You may be surprised at how many people think they are leaders simply because of their position or ability to attain to a position, but really are followers in their minds and it is shown through their actions and decisions.

Identifying Your Follower-Minded People

In order to know whether you are working with someone who is follower-minded or leadership-minded, you must identify them. It can take some time to identify those who are followers because so many people want to be leaders and may not be cut out for it; at least not at their current level of thinking. This doesn’t make them a bad person, just someone who needs a certain kind of influence in order to be led to success. Followers have to be led. That’s just the truth of the matter. They need and want clear, constant, and solid leading. Their motto is: “Tell me how, what, when, and where to do something and I’ll do it. I need you to set those parameters so I know what’s going on and therefore I feel safe”. (This means a leader must lead in this way, but more about that later).

            I believe the reason so many people fall short in leadership is because they don’t realize they are actually followers trying to lead from their follower-mindedness. This means they’ll put a few things in place and then wait for others to come along and join them. Until they have matured through personal development and have moved into a leadership-mindedness, they’ll continue this same cycle. Some people just aren’t meant to hold leadership positions. This could be for any number of reasons, but among them are such things as having a tendency to avoid risk, a fear of failure, feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, a tendency to wait for others to make the first move on something, fear of the unknown, fear of trying new things, etc. If someone feels these statements describe them, they probably are more minded toward followership than leadership. That doesn’t make them a bad or less valuable person, it’s just a realization that has to be made if they are to progress past it to their own success.

Identifying Your Leadership-Minded People

I’m not talking about someone who is a manager or the boss. These two are positionally-minded and therefore are ultimately follower-minded. I’ll simply point out that a manager or the boss depend more heavily upon their rank or position to gain compliance from those who are under their authority. You’ll find this type of structure in such organizations as the military, law enforcement, and many corporate settings. They tend not to think outside of the set procedures and tend to fear such things as new ideas and the voicing of those ideas. Their phrase is: “Just stay in your lane, do as I say, and do your job so we can all go home on time”. That’s all we’ll say about managers and bosses. A leadership-minded person realizes that not all ideas can be implemented, but they are also not afraid to offer their ideas or give other people’s ideas a chance to at least be heard.

You must know who your leadership-minded people are by observation of how they operate. How outgoing they are. How independent they are. How influenceable they are. Being leadership-minded doesn’t make them more valuable or more honorable, it just means they must be led differently than those who tend to be more follower-minded.

The good thing about identifying your leadership-minded people, unlike identifying follower-minded people, is that it doesn’t take long to find them! Leadership-minded people tend to always be getting into something…and it’s usually trouble. It’s in their nature to be trying new things, falling flat on their faces, getting back up and trying something else!

Leadership-minded people don’t follow you, they join you! You must have somewhere to take them and if they are going to the same place you are, they must feel it’s worth their time to go the way you’re taking them or they will get there their own way.

Leadership-minded people don’t join you just to stay a passenger. They want to drive something! Not necessarily take over and steer the whole ship, but they want to have some active part that challenges them and makes them feel it is worth their time to be there. They want something on a deeper level than what they currently have and they want someone who can provide it!

You have to lead this person in a certain way, and it isn’t through shaming them for being who they are or for trying new things. Pull back on their reigns? Yes! Shame and attack? No! Not if you want to tap into their potential. This takes a certain level of leadership security in the one leading them, and leadership-minded people can tend to sense whether or not they are being led by a secure person.

Are You a Leader of Followers or a Leader of Leaders?

            This is yet another area that must be identified in the leadership-minded person’s life and you can tell which one you are by which group of people you attract, with which group of people you do the best, and with which group of people you have the most positive impact and influence.

I have observed a few key differences between someone who is a leader of followers and a leader of leaders.

Differences of Focus

The leader of followers (The “trail keeper”) focuses more of their attention on the emotional comfort of those they are leading, hoping the person will eventually mature. They just tend to like people in general and therefore want people to be happy and to enjoy themselves and will do what they can to help ensure this takes place. They are aware they can’t make everyone happy (they are leaders after all), but they try the best they can to do so. In an attempt to accomplish this, they may shy away from “rocking the boat” for fear that it will displease someone.

This can be borne from a genuine care for people’s emotional well being and they lead their people with those things in mind. This leader will usually draw larger groups to themselves, but they have to guard against people becoming too dependent upon them for emotional strength. They must also guard against needing people to be dependent upon them for emotional strength.

The leader of leaders (The “trail blazer”) focuses more of their attention on the emotional development of those they are leading. They also want people to be happy and to enjoy themselves, but not at the expense of quality personal growth.

They want their people to be genuinely happy as a product of developing their emotional maturity. This can also be borne from a genuine care for people’s wellbeing. They are more focused on emotional maturity than emotional comfort.

They are okay “rocking the boat” if they feel it needs to be rocked and they are just as okay letting uncomfortable situations remain uncomfortable because they see that action as a growth opportunity for their people. They also have a tendency to challenge their people to grow mentally and emotionally and to never settle for their current level of maturity. This part tends to keep the groups smaller because most people don’t like to feel uncomfortable or challenged to grow. (Again, followers need to be led).

This leader’s hope is not so much to gather large groups (though they’ll take as many as they can get), but rather they seek to develop the ones they do have so those people can then go out, influence others, and create positive impact on a larger and broader scale that goes beyond their own level of influence. The leader of leaders thinks in terms of multiplication rather than addition and tends to attract other leadership-minded people. They must also learn and be okay with the fact that not everyone they lead wants to be a leader. They must learn to do the best they can to work with follower-minded people without offending or driving them off. This is among their greatest challenges!!

People Skills

The leader of followers tends to be more of a people-person than the leader of leaders. As mentioned earlier, the leader of followers tends to focus on the emotional comfort of their people because they just tend to like people in general, which in turn tends to attract more people because the majority of people need to be led and comforted. The leader of followers doesn’t mind providing this comfort through their leadership.

The leader of leaders may also have good people skills, but their people skills are more aligned with other leadership-minded people. Because the focus is different, the attraction factor will also be different. Their groups will be smaller because less people are attracted to an environment of personal expectation, which is a culture that a leader of leaders almost can’t help but to create, again because of their focus.

What Is Needed the Most?

I believe, and have observed, that those who are follower-minded can be developed into someone who is more leadership-minded, although they will have to constantly fight to keep their natural follower-mindedness from creeping back in. They will also constantly face those fears and inhibitions that made them follower-minded to begin with, but it can be done!

            When it comes to leaders of followers and leaders of leaders, which one do we need the most??  We need them BOTH! We need the leader of followers to gather and maintain the larger group, to be a trail keeper, to ensure the smaller tasks are taken care of, and to ensure that the people are taken care of on a personal basis. We need the leader of leaders to go out in front and make new trails all while bringing other potential leaders along with them and developing them along the way. This is how succession and multiplication are effectively achieved!

            The best thing to do is to find out which of these we are, where we want to go, and start making steps to get there. As I asked earlier, where do we most naturally operate and fit in? Where do our most natural tendencies lead us?

There is nothing wrong with being a follower-minded person. The goal is to get onboard and be the best follower you can be!

There’s nothing wrong with being a leader of followers. The goal is to lead your followers the best you can!

There’s nothing wrong with being a leader of leaders. The goal is to develop people into the best version of themselves and be a stepping stone to their success, because their success is your success!

The idea is to identify which one we are, which one we want to be, and be the best we can at it!

Published by Jason Fulmer

Jason Fulmer currently serves as Pastor of New Testament Christian Church, as well as Personal and Professional development teacher to U. S. Servicemembers, in the Camp Humphreys, South Korea community. His life's goal is to lead men and women to THEIR next level of living and leading through Education and Example!

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