Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
October 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Leader as Follower

“If I gave the order to shoot, I could not let my men sense the slightest shiver of doubt in my belief in the rightness of that order. Any uncertainty on my part would communicate itself to my men; any hesitation on their part could result in chaos and innocent casualties. In a nanosecond I had to be able to set aside deep personal loyalties and put the mission first.” Dallaire, Roméo A. with Brent Beardsley, Shake hands with the devil: the failure of humanity in Rwanda, Random House Canada. Toronto. 2003.

A few years ago now, I was speaking at an Optimist Club event when I opened by asking who in the audience wanted to be a good leader. You can imagine the response - every hand went up. Then I asked who wanted to be a good follower, a couple of uncomfortable hands went up in response. We don’t place much value on following these days but following is an honourable and essential role. When you move into leadership you do not leave following behind, it becomes more important. Every leader must also be a good follower. You have heard this, but we don’t always talk about why it is true. Inspired by Dallaire’s excerpt, here are my three reasons a leader must first be a good follower.

Our excerpt points us to a question every leader faces: how do you take a mission you may not agree with to the people you lead? If we’re honest with each other we’ve all failed this test at some time. I know I have. Here are my three reasons:

1. You create divided loyalties.
When leaders make their disagreement with a mission evident to their teams, the team is caught between their leader and the larger organization. They hesitate. They don’t commit fully to the mission and their performance suffers. Leaders who do this often think they are protecting their teams from the big bad organization that has made a bad decision. They are doing just the opposite. They are putting them in harm’s way. Even a leader’s uncertainty becomes evident to the team.

2. You multiply resistance to the mission.
Next on our list is multiplying resistance to the effort. One person resisting a mission isn’t good, but it’s one person. A leader resisting a mission can take an entire team or department with him, handicapping the effort for everyone else who is trying to get on with it. When you can’t take a mission to your team with conviction, it is time to leave.

3. You set a hypocritical example that undermines your ability to lead.
Our third reason is likely the most practical. If you are to become a transformational leader, you will find out that there are times when you must ask your team to follow you, even when they disagree with you. How do you do this when your example demonstrates that you only support the missions you agree with. You cannot teach others to follow well, until you can demonstrate it personally.

We live in a culture that doesn’t place much value on following but its an important and essential role, one that actually becomes more important as we move into leadership.

For more on leading and following well, check out the book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders or look into a 1/2 day workshop.

Discussion questions:

  1. When was the most recent time you had to take a mission you didn’t agree with to your team and how did you handle it?
  2. Are there leaders in your organization today who are not following well? What steps can you take to correct this?

To go deeper on leadership call or write about a half day workshop or a keynote address.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
October 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor


Has this article sparked some thinking?
Join our blog Talking Leadership here to share it with other readers.


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Download our articles below:

Lead Like Scrooge, December 2017

Follow Well To Lead Well, October 2017

Fundamentals First, September 2017

Leadership from Supervisor to CEO, August 2017

Job Fit and Performance, May 2017

Thinking "Corporate", February 2017

Authenticity and Vulnerability?, November 2016

The Pain Problem, October 2016

The Big Question, September 2016

Risky Business, March 2016

Mentoring in the Moment, January 2016

Sacrificial Leadership, December 2015

5 Tactics For Better Meetings, November 2015

Leader as Follower, October 2015

Dynamic Balance, September 2015

Fearless Humility, August 2015

Fear and Accountability, July 2015

Building a Feedback Culture, June 2015

Fostering Accountability, May 2015

Confront or Avoid?, Apr. 2015

The Heart of Accountability, Mar. 2015

Powerful Ambition, Feb. 2015

Inspiring Possibilities, Jan. 2015

Ralphie and the Strategic Approach, Dec. 2014

Disagree Well, Nov. 2014

Culture and People, Oct. 2014


"The Heart & Hands Leadership workshops are the most practical, readily applicable and inspiring pieces of leadership training I've ever had the privilege of attending. To put this in context, I started leadership training 45 years ago at a military academy, put it into practice first in the Vietnam war zone, and then for the next 40 years I've applied what I've learned in the business & local government realms. Looking back, I wish I had Dan as my instructor in that first leadership course."
– Harry Harker, MCIP, ACP, Town Manager, Town of High River, AB