To Be a Good Leader; Be a Good Follower


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Research: To Be a Good Leader, Start By Being a Good Follower

By Kim Peters. Alex Haslam

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Leadership is a process that emerges from a relationship between leaders and followers. People will be more effective leaders when their behaviors indicate that they are one of us, that they share our values, concerns and experiences, and are working for us. Seen this way, perhaps the usual advice for aspiring leaders — “stand out from your peers” — is wrong. …

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21 Responses

  1. Jack Yoest says:

    This article is required reading for my course on Completed Staff Work

    • Emily Lynn says:

      Kim Peters and Alex Haslam explore a fascinating phenomenon in the area of leadership in this article. They discuss an experiment they conducted among Marine recruits, where they found that those who describe themselves as “followers” are more likely to come into leadership positions than those who describe themselves as “natural leaders.” It may seem like these results do not make sense, but when you think about it, they begin to make sense. If someone thinks of themselves as a follower, they are more likely to pay attention to the inner workings of the organization. They also know what a follower would want. These are two important qualities of a leader, and someone who is constantly looking to be in charge may overlook this when leading.
      Another interesting point Peters and Haslam bring up in this article is that leaders need to focus on we, not I. Oftentimes leaders will work in their personal interest. However, they really should be thinking of what actions they can take to benefit the whole team, or even the greater organization. Successful leaders will recognize their role in the team, and not act like they are better or above the rest of the team. They need to know how to make decisions that will benefit everyone, not just themselves.
      Overall, this article provided invaluable advice that can be applied to work, school, extracurriculars, and one’s personal life.

  2. Alba Segura-Cruz says:

    After reading Research: To be a Good Leader, Start By Being a Good Follower, what I found the most interesting is the fact that The New Psychology of Leadership, includes the key to success in leadership is in “we” and not the “I.” It is important to note that in order for a leader to be successful, it is to take into consideration the people who they are leading. They need to know the group of people operate, and do not put themselves on a higher scale. This reminded me of David Packard and Bill Hewlett, the founders of HP, because they led a group of people through the HP Way, and did not put themselves above others. They would walk around the workers, and would work along with them, allowing for their workers to view them as a companion and not a boss. The HP Way also allows for everyone in the organization to share the same values, allowing for everyone to be on the same page. The article then goes onto discuss that there was research conducted, and recruits that considered themselves to be natural leaders, their peers did not believe they were. This is probably because the recruits put themselves ahead of others, meaning that they put the “I” before the “we,” which does not allow for them to become successful leaders.

  3. James Verby says:

    James Verby
    HBR Follow Public Comment
    I found that this article really does stress the development of leaders. Leaders do not just emerge, they are trained and developed. Although history does provide a small number of military figures who do not follow the norms of development. My example of this would-be Admiral Horatio Nelson, who never followed the official chain of command, even as a very junior officer, and took actions he felt was necessary of the actions of his superiors. This led to many people loving him, and many people hating him. There are some people with natural ability to lead and do not need development, but this is rare. The article stresses the point of being a follower before a leader and uses the example of the Royal Marines in training as this, the marines who considered themselves as leaders were seen as having leadership potential, compared to those who saw themselves as followers usually emerged in leadership positions later. This reminds me of the idea “walk before you run.” In my opinion it is better to start as a follower so a future leader can understand the men or women put under their leaderships. The last paragraph of the article suggests that natural leaders tend to separate themselves from the group itself, as the leader does tend to be a further back from the group. This creates an image of aloofness and ego, thus making the group fall out of love with the leader. The most effective leaders are born from the companionship and experience of followership.

  4. Chris Talamini-Kelemen says:

    In this Harvard Business Review article, the authors detail a fascinating phenomenon that attributes a new definition to “natural leadership.” There’s a traditional definition of leadership that often involves qualities like strong personalities, ability to take charge, quick decision-making skills, and other dominant skills. However, this article and the research done proves that this is anything but the truth.

    The study on the 218 marine recruits was a perfect example of this concept of followership. Leaders are not defined as people in authoritative positions, but rather leaders are people who have people that follow them. With this in mind, it is important to select leaders that other people want to follow. In the case of the recruits, the commanders should be selecting the people whose peers view them as leaders. Unfortunately, this case details how the commanders are failing to do so, and are instead selecting recruits for leadership positions, and it’s likely that these recruits won’t be as successful.

    The strongest conclusion from this article is that when promoting and selecting people for leadership positions, supervisors should be more conscious of what their peers think of them. 360 Degree feedback is helpful in identifying individuals for these types of roles, as their peers will be able to express who they view as a leader.

  5. Katie Hurd says:

    The article by Kim Peters and Alex Haslam highlights the importance followership has in the development of a great leader. The success of a leader stems from their ability to engage followers and generate a memorable and positive relationship with each of their followers. Some of the greatest leaders possess the talent of relating themselves to their followers. When you form connections and make your followers feel shared in a common goal, community, and objective, they are more willing to follow you and place their trust in you as their leader.
    The biggest turn off in a leader is one that looks down on their followers and places themselves on a pedestal. When they make themselves appear better than others and deserving of more praise and respect, these leaders create an environment of jealousy, competitiveness, and envy. This is detrimental to the leader and leaves followers with a poor vision of what a leader should be.
    I believe the Marine example they discussed in the article is an excellent example of how leaders must not distance themselves from the followers, but rather become as close to the followers as possible to generate a stronger relationship. In my personal experience, leaders who have remained in touch with their followers are more successful in advocating for their followers and identifying the greatest solutions that solemnly pertain to the individuals they are leading.

  6. Fernando Guerrero says:

    Kim Peters and Alex Haslam defined leadership as a process that emerges from a relationship between leaders and followers. Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader, they set out to make a difference. As stated in the article, the key to become a successful leader is to focus in the collective “we”, not the individual “I”. By having the interest of the group rather than own personal interest, leaders achieve followership, because without it leading a group of people wouldn’t be as effective. To achieve effectiveness among your team, aspiring leaders should concentrate more in showing empathy towards your teammates, sharing the same values, and acting for the interest of the team because leaders lead by example. John C Maxwell an American best-selling author that studies how leaders can be more effective in the workplace, said “Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others”. This is what the whole article talks about, leaders would be better served by empowering others, and the way of doing that is to ensure they are seen as good followers rather than adopt behaviors such as dominance & confidence, that they will automatically associate with leadership.

  7. Isabel Rodriguez says:

    I found this article particularly intriguing, it resonated with me very much. Individuals who consistently place themselves above their fellow team members are obviously solely out for personal success. This characteristic can be seen as a major turn-off for followers, due to the lack of enthusiasm towards the whole team’s success. Followers can do their best work when they are guided by a leader who is “one of them” and makes it evident that they wish for everyone to succeed and for everyone’s thoughts and concerns to be heard. A portion of the article that specifically resonated with me was a piece of advice that goes against what society has been saying all along, instead of consistently trying to “stand out” against your peers to achieve leadership, it is suggested to be seen as a good follower and someone who is willing to work well within the group and on its behalf. I think the portion regarding on the group’s behalf sticks out because a group of followers wishes to be heard and taken seriously. Therefore, with a leader that will hear them and vouch for their concerns and ideas, a leader and follower will have utmost success in their future.

  8. Tyler Raftery says:

    In this article, I think that we are able to see the difference between a set leader and one that becomes a leader due to peer standings. A set leader is something that is appointed to lead a group of people by someone higher up than them. With a leader like this, we can see that they have more respect for those higher up than them, this is why they were put in this role. Because of this, there are in fact sometimes where when we can see that the person picked to lead the group is not always respected by their peers in the same regard.

    We can see a difference when we look at a leader that has been appointed by both the people that are higher up than them as well as their peers. Being appointed by your peers gives you an advantage because you are already respected by them in a way. This means they are going to be a lot more responsive to you as their leader and will want to put in better work for you. This will also mean that you are in fact not at as much of a risk of having a power struggle when it comes to getting work done within your group.

  9. Austin Moxham says:

    In my honest opinion, I found this article to be very inspiring and thought-provoking. I agree with the authors’ argument that for someone to be a good leader they must first learn how to be a good follower. Based on the studies conducted to support this argument, I believe the essential element at its core is the concept of trust. By initially developing a strong relationship with his teammates/coworkers and collaborating with them to benefit the group, a person communicates to that group that they can depend on them to have their back and do what is right for them, and in return, the group recognizes that person as a leader. This expression of faith and comradery establishes the interdependent nature of leadership and followership because for one to effectively exercise true leadership, they must understand whom they are leading.

    A historical figure who clearly conveys this notion and also embodies the spirit of leadership is Ronald Reagan, who said, “the greatest leader is not the one who does the greatest things, He is the one who gets the people to do the greatest things.” Considering this quote and the insights stated in this article, it is justifiably true that the best leaders acknowledge the strengths of their followers and in doing so, inspire them to utilize them to get the work done. This is the essence of Completed Staff Work because the manager depends on their competent subordinates to provide them with a recommendation to make the best decision. At the same time, the subordinates feel regarded as leaders themselves because they are trusted to help make those important decisions. In brief, as supported by this article and The Memo, the manager learns leadership by following the team, and subordinates learn followership in leading the manager. In other words, not all leaders can be found at the top rung of organizations, often the ones that know how to truly execute leadership do not always bear a title of authority.

  10. Aris Magoulas says:

    The article breaks down leadership by providing the many mis-representations of it. In other words the classical definition of how to become a leader is not only wrong but misleading. The traditional definition invokes traits of those aspiring to leaders such as be the loudest one in the room. This is not only wrong but in the study represented in the article those who claim to be leaders and outwardly try to prove themselves as leaders in most cases are not effectively performing a leadership role and are not seen by their peers as a leader. The aspect of follower-ship is once again key to success of a leader and the road an individual must travel down to truly embody a leader. I fully agree with the view point of the article and, in my own experience with sports along with the workplace, have observed the “quiet leader”. The leader who never wanted to be a leader but through his actions and communication advanced the team and company. I was once in that very position. I never intended to be a leader and frankly was scared of that kind of responsibility, but as time went on my co-workers and teammates chose me. Communication and follower-ship go hand in hand because they cannot exist without one another. A leader is part of the team or group not above it and if anything they rely more on the group than their own abilities in almost every task they are assigned or goal they assign to them self.

  11. Maysen Elliott says:

    The article, Research: To Be a Good Leader, goes parallel to many of the personal values I hold dear to myself when it comes to leading those around me. The most important part of leading is knowing how to follow. If one does not know how to follow, or what it is like to be a follower, it can easily deter any drive for the followers to want and listen to their leader. It becomes an “All talk no walk” situation. No one truly wants to sit and take orders all day, it deprives individuals of their independence and personal drive to do something on the behalf of the group. However, once the leader is seen to know how to follow and to work as a team with their followers, it becomes more of a role-model-like peer situation to inspire the followers to achieve their leader’s expectation. This is a very heavily focused style of teamwork that the military relies on to breed great officers and subordinates. I think the article did a great job with bringing in the Marine’s research and the success of finding the best possible leaders. Overall, the entire military follows a remarkably similar structure. Leadership is needed for productivity, and when it is done properly and the poor leaders are weeded out, it only leaves success for the teams doing the hard work.

  12. Christopher Le says:

    It has been impounded into our heads through the course of this class that being a good follower is contingent upon being aware of what is best for one’s organization and “managing one’s manager.” In other words, the best follower is one who is able to make leaps and bounds with their own managerial abilities. Peters and Haslam turn this concept around by speaking on what makes for a good leader, and as one might expect, it is the ability to be a good follower. In both cases, nothing is stressed more than the strong mutualistic relationship between a leader and his or her followers. Without any semblance of communication or trust between members in different leading/following positions in an organization, there can be no hope for success.
    In the HBR article, one idea stood out to me: that leaders need to be seen as “one of us,” not “one of them.” This concept brings forward the importance of the mutualistic relationship between leader and follower, as Peters and Haslam eventually bring up evidence for why this is the case. In the case of the Royal Marine recruits, it is mentioned how the recruits who see themselves as natural leaders are actually viewed less favorably by their peers than the recruits who had identified themselves as followers. This phenomenon is heavily reliant on the fact that familiarity and camaraderie in an organization breeds the best leadership; when individuals identify themselves as the natural leader, they actually alienate themselves from the group.

  13. Joe says:

    The first thing that stands out to me, after reading this leadership article written by Kim Peters and Alex Haslam, is that they hold very similar beliefs to Jack Yoest, our management professor. In line with Yoest’s book – The Memo – Peters and Haslem state that leaders can only be effective if they have the ability to follow. They stress that leadership must be about engaging your entire team and listening to what your subordinates have to say. This is something that The Memo also addresses: you have to be able to follow and lead to be a successful leader. All this said, what was different to me is that leadership is most effective when the leader is viewing any situation as “we” and not “I.” This means a good leader is only engaging when they are thinking about others and not focused on themselves. This concept is not so much new; rather, the phrasing this article used was. I would say the ideas addressed by the authors are enhanced by the phrasing and examples. Based off what I know about leadership and business, I agree with Haslam and Peters on their assessment of what it means to be an effective leader. But I would add a little more explanation on how a leader can follow well, while still being decisive.

  14. Omar Alakeel says:

    One thing I am learning from taking a management course and reading this article is that a very important skill to have in business is to BE what you want to become, this may not apply all the time or most of it even but by becoming the employee you hope to become you’ll be a prime candidate for it. By finding the opportunity to demonstrate my leading skills, I’m becoming a prime candidate for a leadership position when peers and managers ask for one, it’s interesting how the article not only identifies that but also the different types of leadership and how a “one of us” leader could not only have the approval of their peers but also have a bigger chance of becoming a better leader, I also thought that the experiment of the Marines would prove that recruits who identify themselves as leaders would get the majority of the votes as Marines would be better capable of identifying leadership skills, but by acting the role and providing leadership without distancing themselves of the group might prove to be best, both for leaders and followers, as leaders would not only have the proval of their peers but also the knowledge of how the group functions and the followers would be more accepting of their leader and become better followers.

  15. Isabella Lay says:

    I was intrigued by the idea the article purposed, that to be a good leader, meant being a good follower. Right away, it almost sounds like an oxymoron, but going more in-depth into the article, I found the line to be genius. The article touches on how it’s not those who believe themselves to be “natural born leaders” who come out the best. It’s those who never considered themselves to be a leader in the first place who turns out to be the best. This is because those that want to lead are only focused on just that. They forget the importance of a follower. They forget that to be a leader, you need to have strong followers. Having never been open to being in that position before, they fail to resonate with followers and understand just how valuable their role is. In addition, they fail to understand that the role of being a leader is not only about themselves. A good leader acts for the benefit of the group and not solely themselves. Those who reach straight for leadership are often the same people who would put themselves before someone else and that’s not what a good leader does. Like a good follower, a good leader is not focused on just themselves but focused on the success of everyone else. Therefore, one could never be a good leader without first being a good follower.

  16. Matt Long says:

    Kim Peters and Alex Haslam share the need for leadership and followership in an effective corporation, business enterprise or military establishment. In their “Research: To Be a Good Leader, Start By Being a Good Follower” they discuss the relationship that transpire between leaders and followers. Leaders need to have the ability to engage people and actually have the characteristics of an exceptional follower. To be an effective leader, one must be a team player. They must share their concerns, proficiencies, and ideals. They understand that one is only as good as their team. Selflessness is an appreciated characteristic that is highly valued in a team player.

    The Marines information shared that people need to share themselves with their group for success. Leaders who separate themselves from the group can be seen as excluding themselves from the unity of a team or sharing a common mission. The best followers follow not only the individual leader but their vision. Followers become passionate advocates for their leaders’ purpose when they feel their aspirations are shared. Leaders wish to nurture the interests of the team, not solely their own intentions. To be a competent leader, one must have effective followership qualities.
    Practicing these followership characteristics will result in becoming a future dynamic and proficient leader.

  17. Amanda Johnson says:

    I thought a really important point was made throughout this article by Kim Peters and Alex Haslam. To be a good leader, you have to be great at being a follower first. While this isn’t explicitly stated, it seems apparent from the comments made throughout. The authors discussed an experiment they conducted which found that those who saw themselves as followers found themselves as leaders by the end of the 32-week period. This can likely be attributed to the importance of being considered “one of us” versus “one of them” like mentioned in the article. Part of being a leader is being able to connect with the group you are leading and forming relationships with them. Without these relationships, it becomes very difficult to persuade people to act or buy into your messages as a leader. It helps to build trust. After all, leadership by definition is one’s ability to persuade others to act or not act in a certain way. Without understanding how to be a follower first, none of this is possible. It teaches us how to unify a group and have everyone identify with one another. Leadership follows that. Ultimately, Peters and Haslam hit on this point throughout the article in by strongly expressing the importance of followership.

  18. It is interesting to think how in the article by Kim Peters and Alex Haslam they mention “how to be a good leader you have to start by being a good follower”. Most of the time we are taught that to be a great leader means to take advantage of every opportunity that showcases leadership skills because to be a leader we are not supposed to be followers. However, the discoveries of this article proved the generic definition of leadership wrong as they define the success in leadership as “we” and the individual “I”. This means that we should see leadership as a team effort. As something that is achieved collectively, not just by one individual. Followers of the leader are bound to work together to achieve the common goal. In the article, they mention how instead of focusing on standing out we should be more focused on being seen as a peer, in other words, a good follower. Anyone in a work setting should have someone they can feel comfortable with and be able to create trust among a group of individuals. When you try to separate yourself from a group instead of working together, you are bound by failure. The key to success for leadership is working together towards the common goal. Overall, the article gives great characteristics on how to be a successful leader by being a follower.

  19. Abby Jackson says:

    I found this article very interesting, especially because of how it put into words a concept that I think many of us have been learning for our whole lives. To be a real leader, you must be seen as a good follower first. It is important to be somebody who can follow instructions, solve problems, and exist horizontally to those individuals they want to lead. Then, as a leader, they have already established credibility and respect. By making sure that a leader of a group is somebody that already functions well as a member of the team, they are better able to have good relationships with those they work for. It is not necessarily important that the leader of a group is the most skilled or among the most skilled/adept/experienced. What makes a good leader is that they have the ability to understand what needs to be done, problem-solve, and that they have the skills needed to encourage and uplift those that they lead. Therefore, it seems obvious that a strong leader could very likely come from a background of being a strong follower.

  20. Dominic Decker says:

    In the Harvard Business Review article, there is a great explanation of leadership and followership. What the article clearly shows is the importance of leadership through followership. Kim Peters and Alex Haslam point out the significance of being a good follower so that one can be a good leader. Through the article, we learn that not everyone who considers themselves a leader is always a good leader. This can be seen in the study of the Marines. These leaders fail to understand and participate in being a follower. A leader’s success does not stem from themselves but from the people they are leading. Better yet, success stems from their ability to be a follower. A leader’s job is to engage their followers. These interactions create relationships between leaders and followers. Each relationship is contributing to the overall effectiveness of a leader. It allows people to feel appreciated, motivated, and together. Relationships create a team atmosphere that stimulates successful workers. Anyone can be in a leadership role. Very few can be in a leadership role and be a follower. The key to a good leader is being a part of the whole. A good leader does not single themselves out based on their role. A good leader leads from the bottom, not the top.

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