Who came first, the leader or the follower?

Published 9:06 pm Thursday, May 4, 2017

By Elaine A. Lankford

When I was young, the kids in my neighborhood played a game called “King of the Hill.”

We would find a small mound of dirt or a tree stump, and one of us would take her place atop the designated “hill.” The objective of the game, of course, was for everyone else to take a turn trying to push that person off. Whoever succeeded became the new King of the Hill.

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During the various roles that I have had throughout my life, both personal and professional, I’ve never forgotten that game. I think it’s mostly because when I tried to excel in specific areas, in some fashion or form, a version of that game was being played.

The business world is full of people who would love nothing more than to be the next King of the Hill. Yet, what we need right now are leaders.

Certainly, there are people who seem to have inherently strong undertones of leadership ability. However, not all followers turn into leaders; and therefore, it is important to understand how leaders emerge.

Ironically, the roots of leadership are found deep within the process of follow-ship. All great leaders have first been dedicated, courageous, and motivated followers who saw the path to leadership as a road paved by self-growth.

By watching, engaging and challenging those around them, as well as those above them, they grew into their leadership capabilities. And when opportunity knocked, they answered.

How does a follower turn into a leader? After reading several articles on both leadership and follow-ship, it appears there are specific traits shared by both followers and leaders. If these traits are nurtured, transition from follower to leader is possible.

The following are just some of those traits:

Excellent communication: A leader is one who, as a follower, spoke out and expressed clear opinions and now channels information to others from a level of authority.

Honesty: A leader is a former employee in whom trust was placed by the entire office and now has been rewarded with greater responsibility.

Loyalty: A leader starts out as someone who can be depended on and over time because of his/her reliability and now receives loyalty from others.

Consistency: A leader begins as an employee that can repeatedly produce positive results until her efforts make her the go-to person to whom all others are attracted.

Vision: A leader is someone who caught on to the vision presented to her, helped create an environment in which to obtain the vision, and is now the one casting the vision for others.

Therefore, a leader is a follower who invested in the process of personal growth, developed positive traits into exceptional attributes, and now influences others to do the same.

John Maxwell expresses it this way: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.”

Perhaps if we used the above criteria to evaluate those we lead, knowing that they are evaluating us in turn, we would begin to recognize that as leaders we owe a lot to our roots as followers.

Today, I challenge you to evaluate your employees and find that one person who constantly rises to the top. Take it upon yourself to mentor her in leadership. No doubt, she already has the seeds of greatness in her. Why not help her become the dynamic leader she is in the process of becoming? Even a small amount of nurturing from you could accelerate the process.

Elaine Lankford is a John Maxwell certified coach, teacher, trainer and speaker. She is the founder of Transforming Love Ministries LLC and a board member of the Christian Business Coalition of Hampton Roads. Email her at elaine@elainelankford.com.