Why do we Naturally Choose to be a Follower before a Leader?

5 mins read

By: Brett Harmon

Leadership is the practice of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. Leaders are made over time through hardships and sacrifice and by choosing to take the long way out. Nobody is born a leader, it usually starts with taking risks and developing strong social skills used in everyday working relationships.

For the most part, while growing up, I was surrounded by people who chose to be followers without even thinking about leading in a situation and standing alone no matter who was watching. Frequently, people forget what they truly believe in and how to accept the challenge of being the best version of themselves, unlocking the potential of people around you to become better. Great leaders are certainly rare and hard to come by as they must be honored because it typically takes someone lots of persistence, maturity and enthusiasm.

Without leaders the world would be an ugly place with no leaders in school, managers in the workplace and very little chance to learn from people with more power. People are naturally taught to be followers, starting at birth without the necessary experiences we need to make our own choices. Early on our childhood decisions tend to be centered around copying what a cool person is doing or following where your friend goes and what to invest yourself in.  

We often rely on leaders to do the the extraordinary, going above and beyond, allowing for people to grow in business and school settings. Ron Shaich, the CEO and founder of Panera Bread, pointed out how much successful leadership can help companies’ functioning. “A leader’s responsibility is to create a direction for the organization and share with their team the opportunity of what they all can be.”

People who hear where they can improve and need to change will look back and be thankful for all the new opportunities they were given from someone standing up and leading a group towards a common goal.

“Honesty is helpful. When you tell someone why they’re doing a bad job, you’re transferring the responsibility. Maybe they improve. Maybe they leave. Whatever the outcome, they own it,Shaich said.

His thoughts focus on leaving people accountable for their actions, and this doesn’t exclusively mean the workforce. It’s showing people they need to be accountable for actions in every facet of life.

Being a follower is not always wrong and many times a follower will turn into a strong leader after the right amount of experience and self confidence. Barbara Kellerman, leadership lecturer at Harvard University spoke about the process of converting yourself as a follower to a leader. “Good followers are passionately committed and deeply involved. They actively support a good leader (one who is effective and ethical). Bad followers, on the other hand, do nothing to contribute to the group or the organization,” Kellerman said to UNC Executive Development Department.

Followers can help and work to achieve things but not to the same extent that leaders do. Being a good follower does not automatically mean you will become a leader.

We all choose to be followers at different times of our lives because it’s the easy way out and sometimes we don’t care enough to change. But think about how much different our society might be if we all took pride in helping others, spreading love and motivating others for the common good. Great leaders that evolve over time will eventually help people succeed and prosper in life. Naturally, people of all ages can pursue leadership at even the very slightest form, and the chance to develop into a leader that leaves a positive impact on this world.

Brett is a sophomore Computer Science major.

Graphic courtesy of David Giacomini.


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