by Rick Ezell
Great leaders demand great followers. This is true for families, businesses, churches, and nations. Just as great preaching requires an audience that will listen well and great coaching necessitates players who will execute the plays consistently and great parenting involves children who will obey instruction faithfully, great leadership demands volunteers who will follow decisively.
A woman once said to her minister, “I would follow you in an assault on Hell with water pistols.” That’s the kind of follower every leader wants and needs.
Here’s a secondary truth: All leaders are followers, but not all followers are leaders. Many followers resist being placed in a leadership role. Their mantra is: I will follow anyone, just don’t ask me to lead. They understand their role—in back but not in front.
Army Colonel Tom Cordingly said: “When I served at Fort Knox, the executive officer I worked under would plan the strategy and then turn to me and say, ‘Make it so, Tom.’ I was his right-hand man, the make-it-so guy. I found more satisfaction in the right-hand-man role than in leading. I’ve come to the conclusion: Give me a good man to work for, a man I love and respect, and I’ll be happy.”
A Dynamic Duo
We find such a relationship between Deborah and Barak. Barak was the general of the Jewish army. Deborah was a prophet, a judge, and a military commander.
For 80 years the Israelites had enjoyed peace and rest because of the leadership of Ehud. But as soon as this godly leader was dead, Israel relapsed into sin again. Oppression was the result. Then, Israel cried out for help. And God raised up a courageous woman named Deborah as a leader. But Deborah could not defeat the enemy alone. Every leader needs a second in command, a right-hand man, a make-it-so guy. Barak was the man who would lead the forces, setting Israel free from oppression.
Barak, however, was reluctant to accept the orders of Deborah. I can partly understand Barak’s hesitation. The Canaanites had iron chariots, something the Israelites completely lacked. That meant the enemy had a huge advantage on the battlefield. For the Israelites to attack would be a suicide mission, like sending out the Boy Scouts armed with Swiss-army knives to do battle against a tank brigade. Barak, therefore, made one condition for Deborah: If you will go with me, I will go. While on the surface it appears as cowardly, this statement was actually a request for the presence of God. The prophetess stood in the place of the Lord.
With the promise of the Lord’s presence, the enemy forces, including their chariots, were lured to the River Kishon. The Lord sent a rainstorm that flooded the river, turning the battlefield into a sea of mud, severely impeding the mobility of the Canaanite chariots. It turned into a slaughter, a rout, and a total victory for Israel.
A Couple of Lessons
The story of Barak and Deborah provides us with ample insight and instruction on how to follow. Isn’t it interesting that people are taught to lead, but comparatively little affirmation or instruction equips the majority of us to follow? Our culture places a limited value on following. We celebrate the great leaders, but dismiss the many loyal followers. This amazing Old Testament story has some great lessons on following today.
Find a leader who follows the Lord. Follow the chain of command in this story. Success was found because Deborah, the leader, followed the Lord. Barak, therefore, found it easy to follow Deborah. Even the apostle Paul qualified his expectations, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). When a leader deviates from following the Lord, followers are not under obligation to follow him or her. But when you find a leader who follows the Lord, then follow that leader with abandon.
Don’t seek to compete with the leader, but complement him or her. Leadership is participatory: leaders and followers exist in a mutually beneficial relationship where each adds to the effectiveness of the other. Deborah understood her role. Barak understood his. They needed each other. They complemented each other and victory was gained. Good followers complement their leaders by using their gifts (while gifted in their own rights, leaders don’t have all the necessary gifts to accomplish the task), speaking affirmation (leadership is lonely and discouraging at times, therefore, verbal affirmation is needed), displaying loyalty (leaders need followers they can count on through thick and thin), extending support (without the support of followers, leaders are doomed to failure.)
Stand in the gap. Deborah had the vision, but lacked the military insight and manpower to defeat the enemy. She needed Barak, a make-it-so guy, to stand in the gap to fill the void. Leaders have needs, weaknesses, shortcomings, imperfections. They need loyal and dedicated followers to fill the gaps in their efforts.
Take initiative. Being a follower doesn’t mean that you just stand around and do nothing until the leader tells you what to do. Leaders provide the overall plan and vision, but followers execute. Good followers know what to do without being told. Once given the battle plan, Barak then had the initiative to execute those orders to ensure victory.
Pray for your leader. The leader you follow faces a murderous enemy. For Deborah it was Jabin’s army with 900 iron chariots. For Christian leaders today it is the world, the flesh, and the devil. Pray that your leader will be faithful when tempted, steady when attacked, firm when needed.
A Terrific Twosome
When Abraham Lincoln took office in 1861 he found that the United States was unprepared for war. The Union had an insufficient, poorly trained, and poorly equipped army of only 16,000 men under the command of a 75-year-old general, Winfield Scott. As the war was fought, Lincoln went through general after general for three years before he finally found a man who was responsible, a risk-taker, and, most importantly, made things happen. That man was Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln could not have won the war without Grant. Lincoln was the leader and General Grant was his chief subordinate. It wasn’t until Grant was added to the mix that Lincoln and the Union Army found victory. In Grant, Lincoln found a follower who was strategic, aggressive, creative, and took initiative. He was a make-it-so guy.
Donald Phillips comments in Lincoln on Leadership: “All leaders should realize that they can’t do everything on their own. They simply must have people below them who will do what is necessary to insure success. Those subordinates who will take risks, act without waiting for direction, and ask for responsibility rather than reject it, should be treated as your most prized possessions. Such individuals are exceedingly rare and worth their weight in gold.”
Churches, business, governments, and families can have leaders who possess great vision and provide direction, just as Lincoln and Deborah did, but they can’t succeed without people like Grant and Barak to carry out the mission. Great leaders demand great followers.
Rick Ezell is a freelance writer in Greer, South Carolina.
A Royal Following
We just read about the importance of following a good leader. It’s interesting to look at global examples of good leaders people that choose to follow or bad leaders that citizens are forced to serve.
On a happy note, the world got a view of England’s royal leaders, and the devotion that the British have to them, when Prince William and Kate Middleton married on April 29.
Here are some statistics about the big event when the happy couple officially became Duke and Duchess of Cambridge*:
• An estimated 2 billion people worldwide watched the big day on TV. About 24 million of those were viewers in England.
• Early reports indicate at least 1.6 million viewers watched the royal wedding via the Internet. (This caused the BBC live streaming to crash at one point, but YouTube held strong throughout.)
• Around 1 million people lined the streets for the occasion.
• On Twitter people were posting 237 tweets every second about the event.
• There were 600 guests invited to the ceremony; of that number, more than 40 were royals from other countries.
* All statistics are estimates reported by various media outlets on April 30, the day after the wedding.