Great Leaders Start as Great Followers

“Simon Says” is a classic game that tests your ability to follow instructions. As a result of playing Simon Says against a cunning Simon, though, you also learned listening skills that help you win. As a participant in Simon Says you learned how to follow, and when it was your turn as Simon, you were better because of it.

When I was in the Marine Corps, I learned to follow orders. In boot camp, we spent hours marching with repetitive orders to move, turn, spin, and stop for no clear reason.

When marching, every step we took corresponded to the foot called out by the Drill Instructor leading us.

Drill taught us to follow orders without question regardless of how crazy the instruction was. As Marines, we might face a situation in combat where our commander gave us an order that doesn’t make sense. We followed orders unquestioningly and without hesitation because we trusted our leaders.

A common characteristic of the Marine Corps is that every Marine is a leader. Marines know that leading isn’t about giving orders and expecting people to obey blindly. We learned that being a leader was about having the trust of your men to follow your lead because they knew you realized their life was on the line.

The reason the Marine Corps turns out such great leaders is because every Marine first learns how to be a great follower. If you want to be a great leader, you should consider whether you are a good follower

Great followers point back to their leaders. A Division Sergeant Major once said to my unit that he is the moon to the General’s sun. His glory as a leader was only a reflection of the General’s leadership.

Great followers learn from their leader’s success. Emulating the behaviors, thinking, and planning of achievement continues the success achieved in the same context and climate that allowed it to achieve success before. For instance, many surgeries are considered routine even in an emergency because medical doctors have followed a successful process handed down to them by others who learned what worked and followed their lead.

Great followers learn from their leader’s failure. The wisdom of failure is a buzz-term for leaders and followers, but just because it is a common proverb to learn from failure, it isn’t any less true. When your leader fails, that isn’t when a good leader becomes an opportunist; rather, they study the reason they failed and learn from as they grow.

Great followers know how to challenge a leader. Followers should not belligerently oppose their leaders, but a great follower is also a great upward leader who uses questions to challenge conventional wisdom and blind spots in a plan.

Question: How has being a follower made you a better leader? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


I am an author, speaker, and leader with a passion for developing people into practical leaders who put their principles into practice. I am the co-author of the acclaimed book Faith Acts with best-selling author Dillon Burroughs, the Chief Operations Officer at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, and an independent leadership consultant to up and coming leaders and start up nonprofit organizations. My greatest joy, however, is serving Christ and his Church. I am the proud husband of Shay and father of two great boys. We live in Chattanooga, TN. #NoogaStrong

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, off-topic, or downright annoying.

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