The Best Follower

Sam Rainer

January 12, 2014

The best follower is not always compliant. It may seem counterintuitive, but no leader should want complete compliance all the time. Such a situation produces zero accountability. Orders are given. Orders are followed. No questions asked. That works so long as the order-giver is perfect. Most of us would last less than a day.

Since leaders are fallible, followers must be given an opportunity to hold the leader accountable, while at the same time respecting the leadership role. The best followers maintain this tension. The best followers are simultaneously loyal and independent.

The best followers are loyal. They don’t let insignificant mistakes by the leader cloud their overall perception. They understand the leader’s foibles and accept them. They know the leader will not make perfect decisions all the time. They simply look for a general trend of sound decisions and stick with their leader.

The best followers are independent. They do not follow blindly. They don’t always take what the leader says at face-value. They are willing to challenge the leader over major changes, while also maintaining a willingness to help implement them. Independent followers are mainly compliant, but not always. They remind the leader of promises made. They help the leader see blind spots. It takes independent followers to keep a leader strong, fresh, and capable.

The best followers find a way to balance loyalty and independence. They are committed to the leader while also being a freethinker.  They ask “Why?” but have a “Why not?” attitude. They don’t sweat the small stuff, but they care deeply about details that could derail an organization. They critique without being a cynic.

Too many leaders value loyalty over independence in followers. This imbalance is a mistake. Blind loyalty keeps you in a blind spot. Freethinking followers should be brought closer, not pushed away. Encourage independence while at the same time emphasizing loyalty. It produces the best type of follower.

4 comments on “The Best Follower”

  1. Randy Mann says:

    Thanks, Sam. I needed this today!
    Blessings, Randy

  2. Steve says:

    I believe the underlying meaning of your post is correct; however, Jesus was a humble servant leader. He focused on interpersonal relationships committed to shared responsibilities and shared authority. Therefore, it is not antithetical to suggest that leaders must become followers. And you are absolutely correct that no leader (other than Jesus Christ) is perfect.
    Nevertheless, unintentionally, often purposefully, restrictive regulations quash spiritual growth. “Lording over” by hierarchies dominate most churches today. However, Jesus taught and practiced a “team” leadership approach based on service. The Kingdom approach to leadership does not impose authority over its membership. Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26).
    Notwithstanding the need for competent Christian leadership; biblical principles command a team approach to leadership. The New Testament church is an organic, not organizational, notion. Jesus is the head of the church, He is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). Open-participatory fellowship is God’s plan toward change in the lives of His people. Shared-life, experiential spirit lead transformation, according to God’s plan, is from the beginning Christ-centered. Authoritarian governance disengages believers and cools the Spirit. God warns against quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
    You wrote, “The best followers are independent,” but truly no one can have freedom or independence until they become completely dependent on Christ. Independence in Christ requires interdependence with one another. Christians are members of one body – a team!

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