Leading from Behind
Leaders are excellent at translating their thoughts and feelings into purposeful action — and they lead themselves first.
They don’t get stratified until the first follower attaches. The first follower is a leader too, but we don’t always give them credit. Often the leader didn’t ask for their position only to be authentic and unique in their public expression.
What happens after the first follower is where it gets interesting. When the leader recognizes their position, watch how they react. Often you’ll see either:
– pride & ego
– ambition & greed
– doubt & disbelief
– anxiety & shame
– focus & purpose
– obligation & responsibility
That reflexive process of stepping into leadership is pivotal. There are accidental leaders, intentional leaders, and obligatory leaders (successional).
Obligatory leaders have lineage in leadership. They have agency on how well they carry their role, if they choose to accept it. They struggle with resentment and repression of individuality. Accidental leaders eventually become one of the other types once they recognize their position and opportunity.
This is either a premature stage of leadership or circumstantial; think of a hero in a spontaneous crime. They didn’t plan to be a hero, but they stepped up when needed. That hero could have been prepared in some way for that fated moment when they were tested.
They may have very well trained (follower to another and leader to themself) to be fit and resourceful; but what they do in that moment defines the type of leader they have the potential to be. The dimensions of a comprehensive leadership construct are important to clarify.
You must have all elements to be a fully developed leader:
1. Be a successful follower
2. Lead yourself successfully
3. Develop others purposefully and successfully towards a goal(s)
Successful quality in each element is achieved with congruence (what you say and do is equal) + authenticity (internalized values) + transparency (honesty and forthrightness)
Let’s break down leadership triad of good follower – self leader – leads other with these in mind: As a follower you must not only adhere to the ideals/purpose of a leader well, but the quality of your followership depends on how much you are in congruence with the ideals and purposes.
Congruence means your actions are equal to your thoughts and feelings, which are either internalized or just performed in the relevant context. This reveals the level of transparency in followership. Many people follow stealthily, which is immature followerhip; the necessary level of leadership embedded in that is lacking.
This informs us the relationship is bidirectional. You can’t be a good follower without being a good leader and vice versa! The last element defining quality of leadership/followership is performance related.
How well one performs each role is measured according to alignment with the relevant ideals and your purpose.
This can be learned and developed through training, practice, and instruction over time. Intentional leadership is the kind that is self-selected
You may have started as accidental or obligatory but accepted the role through congruence, authenticity and transparency.
Intentional Leadership may also originate on it own (not accidental) and may never be obligatory. We can not look at leadership as separate from followership. We must integrate our thinking away from dualistic, linear models.
Lest we forget our best role models and mentors have now or at some point been exceptional followers to other remarkable leaders. To develop leadership ability you must first find a way to be led, if not by yourself then find someone you can follow successfully.
Taylor Burrowes, PhD
Coach | Consultant | Counselor
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