By H. Lynn Gardner
Leaders and followers serving together produce effective organizations, including churches.
A leader is a person people trust and follow. People follow leaders who are honest, having demonstrated their trustworthiness by consistently telling the truth. James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner in The Leadership Challenge reported that 88 percent of followers surveyed valued honesty above all qualities in leaders. They found that trust is the most important reason people willingly follow a leader. When leaders trust others, it encourages their return trust, however distrust fosters distrust. Trust can’t be demanded; it must be earned.
Good leaders lead by example not edict, persuasion not coercion, honesty not deviousness. They are humble yet confident and do not abuse their privileges. A manager said, “I would never ask anyone to do anything I was unwilling to do first.” Leaders lead the way by unselfishly serving the followers and the organization.
Leaders know where they are going, communicate clearly, and demonstrate a passionate commitment to the big picture vision of the organization. They regularly communicate where the organization is going, motivating and inspiring everyone to own, love, and be committed to the vision. The number one quality of effective teachers is enthusiasm. As teachers and coaches, this is true of leaders as well.
Leaders are confident but not arrogant. After considering relevant evidence and best available counsel, they make decisions and do not second-guess themselves. Their self-confidence combined with humility enables them to listen to constructive and unjust criticism without defensiveness, admit it when they are wrong, and make changes when needed.
They can instill and inspire confidence in workers so that they can do their work effectively. They get to know and listen to followers, learning from individuals as they work. They regularly express appreciation and encouragement. Abraham Lincoln said, “Everybody likes a compliment.” Donald T. Phillips in Lincoln on Leadership illustrates Lincoln’s example of management by walking around. Not standing aloof, leaders circulate among the troops. They know those who serve with them.
Good leaders are not prima donnas interested only in their advancement. They care about the best interest of the organization and the followers. They respect the history and mission of the organization, yet courageously take risks to move the organization forward rather than passively preserving the status quo.
Leaders enable others to work effectively by ensuring that they have needed resources to do their job. Leaders focus on unifying, motivating, and empowering followers, thus making the organization more effective.
Leaders are responsible for choosing competent people for the team. A trainer of basketball referees had three rules: “Choose good people. Train them well. Hold them responsible.” Good leaders praise followers for good work and confront them for incompetency and inappropriate behavior.
Good leaders learn from being good followers. Having personal experience in the areas they supervise enables leaders to make more intelligent decisions. If leaders were once respectful followers, then they will work to earn the respect of those following them. Scripture warns against choosing novices and those untaught as overseers and leaders in the church. Beware of selecting arrogant, uncooperative, or power-seeking persons for leadership.
Leaders are shepherds, not hirelings. Leaders do not quit when facing obstacles or crises; they face the situation humbly, objectively, and decisively. After seeking advice from trusted advisers, they pursue the best solution for all involved and the well-being of the organization.
In Servant Leadership Robert K. Greenleaf says the best test of leadership is, “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”
Leadership receives more attention today than does followership. However, since more people qualify as followers than leaders, it is important to consider the qualities and responsibilities of good followers.
“Leadership is a reciprocal relationship between those who choose to lead and those who decide to follow” according to Kouzes and Posner in Credibility. Good followers take direction, share the vision of the organization, feel a part of the team, and do the work expected of them. They seize opportunities to achieve the goals and mission of the organization.
A good worker must be capable of performing expected tasks. When followers fail in their work, the organization fails. Weak and incompetent followers contribute to institutional ineffectiveness. Workers and followers must realize the important role they play in the organization’s success.
Exemplary followers work diligently with attention to detail, taking pride that their work contributes to the overall mission. Even in unfavorable circumstances, a good worker will do his or her best. A bad worker cannot be a good follower.
Followers should express encouragement and sincere appreciation to leaders when appropriate. A good follower has the courage to respectfully confront a leader about unethical or unwise decisions and actions. Followers are thinking persons of character and convictions who have the responsibility to maintain their principles and conscience and decline to obey unethical or unwise orders of leaders.
Good followers have a strong commitment and loyalty to the vision of the organization. They seek the success of the vision of the group rather than self-promotion and recognition.
Good followers refuse to gossip and criticize others behind their backs or talk inappropriately about work matters and sensitive, divisive issues. Issues should be dealt face-to-face rather than in an underhanded, behind-the-back way. Grumbling persons are divisive persons. Good followers know when to keep their mouths shut. A saying from World War II went, “Loose lips sink ships.”
Subordinates may or may not be followers. One may merely acquiesce out of self-protection. Being chosen for a position or job does not make one a follower. Followers accept their responsibilities by committing themselves to do their best in their tasks and promote the mission of the organization. Workers should make a choice to be good followers.
Even if general opinion ranks leadership above followership, both are essential to effective teamwork in any organization. Faithful following stands as important to the overall success of an organization as good leadership. Excellent leadership depends upon followers.
In an organization, each person is both a leader and follower in some relationship. Each person answers to someone, and every follower is a leader to someone. This interconnectedness should promote unity and respect for one another.
Paul illustrated the coordination and unity of the church with the human body. The human body with its trillions of cells, four kinds of tissue, ten systems, 206 bones, and over 600 muscles function together in a single person. The unity of the body is not because the body is one kind of substance but because it has many parts all working together. In an organization, we bring our differences to achieve our mission.
Individuals with different jobs do not detract from unity but contribute to the healthy function of the whole. Each member of the body has a specialized responsibility that contributes to the well-being of the whole body. This function in the body gives each member his or her meaning and value. The body consists of many different parts that are interrelated and interdependent. This unity of an organization is compromised when cliques and competing groups exist. A body is unhealthy if discord thrives within its members.
A spirit of self-importance creates strife in an organization because it leads people to consider others as less important and disposable. They pretentiously belittle others. A get-rid-of mentality motivates them to undermine others. Cooperation more than competition promotes institutional effectiveness.
Teamwork exists when each member in the organization recognizes the value of others as having a role in the mission. Leadership is established when the leader is no longer viewed as the ruling chief but rather a builder of a team. When leaders and followers have a loving concern and a willingness to respect and work together, teamwork can be achieved. One test of persons becoming leaders is the frequency that they use the word we.
The key to unity and teamwork is for both leaders and followers to be servants. A preferred organizational chart has the leaders at the bottom. They serve the followers. The movement of the chart continues up as the workers strive to accomplish the mission of the organization. The followers view themselves as coworkers serving at the direction of the leaders to fulfill the vision of the group.
Effective teamwork results when neither leaders nor followers care who gets the credit as long as the goals are accomplished. Good leaders and followers have character traits of humility, honesty, and unselfish care for others. These contribute to effective teamwork and are best learned by being a committed follower of Jesus Christ.
H. Lynn Gardner is a retired Bible college professor and dean living in Carl Junction, Missouri