You say you want a leader…. but are you willing to be led?
In life, we are all leaders. We lead by taking care of obligations such as paying bills, following the laws of the land, taking care of ourselves, and providing for our loved ones. But being a leader and leadership are two very different things. Leadership is a specific form of hope and optimism associated with one’s level of confidence in the knowledge, skills, and abilities related to leading others. It can thus be differentiated from confidence in the knowledge, skills, and skills one holds associated with other social roles such as a teacher (i.e., teacher efficacy) or statesman (i.e., political efficacy). In short, leadership cannot happen without the collective followership power of the individuals in the organization. This lynchpin is a critical point many of us miss until much later in our careers and is the prime factor in limiting our success.


General George S. Patton said one of my all-time favorites quotes, "Don't tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." Those of you who have worked with me know I am not a micro-manager. I am a radial thinker who enjoys seeing the big picture and enlisting top talent to paint the portrait. But there is a key element missing in Patton’s quote, which is wholly understandable because he’s a military man. I know from my five years of military schools and 12 years active duty, that when given a direct verbal order, you execute it. The ingenuity comes in the form of how you are going to “git ‘er done." You salute smartly and carry on about the work given you. End of discussion.


Life isn't as linear in the civilian sector as it is with our military counterparts. We give employees and team members a great deal of autonomy to increase their personal growth, critical thinking skills, and enhance collaborative engagement. But somewhere along the way we missed emphasizing the one fact they MUST be zeroed in on. They must set aside their personal desired outcomes for the of the desired outcomes of the organization. Their perceived capabilities must match the required abilities defined by the leader. 

I recently had several close friends share with me their promising jobs had evaporated. After deconstructing the “official” verbiage of “eliminating your position”, it became clear that what my friends were doing on the company’s dime was not what the employer was paying them to do. They were doing what they wanted to do, not what the company needed them to do. Was what they were doing illegal or nefarious? No! In fact, they were exceptional at everything they did. The disconnect laid in the fact that what they were doing was not what their employer was paying them to do.

I know this type of dysfunctional followership well. I perfected it during my years as an employee where I just knew I was smarter than my boss and would focus on what I knew the organization needed rather than where my employer wanted me focused. Be that as it may, that did not give me the authority to pursue goals that were different than those I was given. Unless the goals where are illegal, immoral, or unethical, I had an obligation to obey, yes, even in the civilian world. Submitting to what your employer pays you to do is not creating a hostile work environment or employee harassment; it's business. And pushing back on your leader's direction is noncompliance.

This disregard finds its roots in three main sources: fear, laziness, or pride. In my case, it was pride. And as they say, pride goeth before the fall, or in today’s corporate lingo, before the pink slip. And yes, that includes quitting before you get terminated.  What good is being married if you won't honor the marital vows? What good is sitting on a board if you won't fulfill the fiduciary rules? What good is going to school if you won't engage and learn? What good is being an employee if you won't follow the direction of your employer? It is your job.



If you’ve read this far and haven’t discarded my words and switched off the screen, it means you have the spirit of development. You are teachable. And being teachable is the hallmark of being a tremendous follower, as well as a leader. It means you can submit to constructive criticism, adapt your behaviors, devise creative solutions, and even learn new skills, all to meet the organization’s goals and improve the overall climate and culture.

The bottom line is before you lament there are no leaders worth following, make sure you are willing to be led; willing to choose between submitting to the organization's requirements versus being unyielding in pursuing your own professional autonomy. Until you learn to surrender to authority, you’re never going to happy, no matter where you go or who you work for. Trust me, I know.


AdaptabilityBeing ledDysfunctional followershipFollowershipKnowledgeLeadershipOrganizationPersonal growthSelf-efficacySkillsSoft skillsSubmissionTeachabilityTremendous leadership




Very timely message. Very well stated. Whether your current involvement is in a organizational, military, or sports endeavor, it is a team-environment focus that must be the goal.

I, like Tracy, have experienced the repercussions of pride.

I was gifted with a coin that I still carry to this day to help remind me of the proper focus. On one side is the United States Air Force emblem period on the other side it states " Integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do."

I have always associated the middle part of that quote – the service before self portion – as meaning to put the company vision before my own desire to show them that I somehow know more than they do.

That is always help me keep centered and focused.

Thank you,Tracey

George Behr

George Behr

Timely, thanks for your wisdom! Recently on a trip to Texas A&M with my college-searching son, they shared the goal of Freshman year: “Learning how to follow”. I’ve had many lessons on how to lead over my career, but never any on how to follow. I would’ve benefited – especially my leadership – from those lessons throughout my career.

Sylvia Henderson

Sylvia Henderson

This is a tough message to swallow if we aim for “standing out from the crowd” of our colleagues, or thinking entrepreneurally in our jobs. Standing out and being entrepreneural by nature seem like we should be doing our own thing, as you put it. The fine print of your message, however, is that while standing out and being entrepreneural are aspects of leadership to strive for, we must do so in sync with our organization’s mission and meet the objectives we are paid to meet. The “how” may be flexible and open to creative approaches, while the “to what end” is not. I see this as good advice even for contractors being paid by the organizations that contract us.

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