Learning Followership

I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of reading a book or blog or listening to a talk or sermon and thinking—“This is the conclusion to something I have been thinking about for a while.” It is almost as if the authors knew what you were thinking and were able to take it to its end and flesh it out for you. The teacher of my Doctor of Ministry Program Len Sweet has an uncanny knack for both writing and assigning books that do this to me.

Most recently I had this experience with the book Leadership is Half the Story: A Fresh Look at Followership, Leadership, and Collaboration. In it, the business authors write about the need for us to look at teaching not just leadership but also followership. We have not taught people how to be good followers. If everyone is a leader then there is no teamwork, no partnership, or no collaboration. There are only individuals.

At the same time that we have not developed followership the world has increasing demanded it. More work is being done in teams. These teams require a growing amount of collaboration as individual members of the team have unique contributions to projects. This is even more challenging when the team has to function over distance.

I loved how the authors talk about leadership and followership. They say that leaders set the frame of the work. They are responsible to set up the goals, constraints, and timelines for the work. The follower do the work within that frame. I loved this because I think this is a great way to frame leadership. Leaders don’t control all of the work but actually help those they are leading to do the work. This also emphasizes the importance of good followers.

How many bosses really help their employees do their work? How many employees really work to help their bosses get their goals accomplished?

I think the idea of followership is especially important for Christians. As Len Sweet discussed in his book Summoned to Lead, Christians are first and foremost followers. Central to our identity and work is the reality that we are followers of Christ. Sometimes God summons us to the front of a group of followers, but we are always still following Jesus. How are we doing at following?


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