Aspire To Be The Leader, Not The Follower

May 4, 2009

When you first enter a job, one of the first things that you need to understand is your role within the company. Are you the leader or are you the follower. While their are obviously more followers than leaders in a company, that doesn’t mean you should accept that role and not try to be more. One of the biggest complaints that I hear people say is that they hate their job because their is no chance for them move up. To this I ask: Have you done everything you can?

If they answered yes, that means that you have put in the extra hours, you have offered to help out in areas that aren’t your own responsibility and you have taken an active role within the company to try and bring value. If not, then it you need to ask yourself: Why? While their is nothing wrong with being a follower, people remember leaders, not followers. In the workplace when a project has positive results, typically the leader of the project will get most of the credit. It is true that those involved in the project get some credit as well, but the bulk of the credit will go to the leader. When a project goes bad, the opposite will happen. Someone has to take responsibility for a failure and that means one of the ‘followers’ are subject to scrutiny.

Why Be The Leader?

If we define what a follower is, it may go something like this:

Follower (Noun) — someone who accepts the leadership of others; a person who follows the directions of others

When you were a kid do you remember how much fun it was to play with your friends when you got to pick the games and be the leader?  Now think how much fun it was for your friends when they had to play a game that they didn’t want to play. Regardless if they wanted to play it, they did it anyways.

By no means is being a follower a bad thing, but when you look at all the benefits that a being a leader has, it is surprising to see how few people try to maximize their efforts to excel into a leadership position. In a competitive job market, doing the minimum and even more is not enough to secure your job, let alone a promotion. When you look at the jobs most commonly listed in job openings, most are entry level work. One big complaint from college graduates is that they don’t want to take just any job that is just entry level. They want a 9-5 job that is going to pay them at least 50-60K a year with benefits. With expectations like this, it is obvious why entry level jobs are seen as ‘last option’ jobs. Entry level jobs are essentially the lowest seniority within a company. Does that mean you should ignore it and not consider it an option? No. Everyone starts somewhere. Every job is a stepping stone to something bigger and better. It is your job to make the most out of it and use the experience to be not just a follower, but grow into a leader.

So How Can I Be The Leader?

While being a leader is obviously not for everyone, it is something that everyone should consider. Being a leader doesn’t mean you have to be the CEO of a company. You can be a leader in your own way. Being a leader among your peers is something that everyone can set as their goal.

Being a leader starts with having the right mindset. If you have the mentality that you can be the leader and are able to handle the responsibilities that come with it, then you are one step closer. I was told as a kid that “you need to believe in yourself before you can accomplish anything.” Erase doubt from your vocabulary and transition into a positive attitude.

The second thing is to evaluate your situation. You should consider the following:

1. Do you understand your role in the company?

2. Are you using your time efficiently at work and go far and beyond expectations?

3. Do you have good relations with your co-workers and peers, including upper management?

4. Does upper management know your name?

5. Are you one of the last ones to leave work or are you one of the first?

It is important to consider these questions because these are the same questions that upper-management and the ‘leaders’ of the company will consider about you. If you are not able to say yes to these question then you should start working on them if you truly want to be a leader.

The last step is realization of your potential. In sports, analysts will sometimes say that certain athletes have reached their potential. They have used all their skills and have reached the max of what they are able to do. As an employee, you should always have a gauge of your potential and capacity and always keep it mind. If you are given a project to do but feel you can’t do it, does that mean you have reached your potential? Have you used all your skills? Self-doubt is one of the biggest reasons for people staying in the same job as a follower their whole life. Sure you can be content and happy doing it, but if you could accomplish more, why wouldn’t you?

While ‘leaders’ are often tagged with titles like CEO and President, that doesn’t mean you can’t be one either. John Quincy Adams said it best:

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

Aspire to the be the leader, not the follower.


Photo by Rafnap

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