Elsewhere we have defined “leadership power” as the leader’s capacity to influence others to move from where they are now to somewhere else. Formally, leaders have more organizational power than do followers. Nevertheless, good followers exercise considerable power to positively influence the direction and effectiveness of the organization.
All followers have two potential kinds of power: personal and position-based.
The power of the follower
The follower’s personal power includes specific education, knowledge, skills and expertise, as well as the energy to learn, accept undesirable projects, and to take responsibility beyond the boundaries of his job description. Every follower wields the power of relationships by which he can persuade others (including leaders) to move in the right direction. All of these can be valuable resources to the organization when used correctly.
The position of a follower in an organization can also provide sources of power. His responsibilities may cause him to interact with many people. A central location provides influence because he is known to many and is directly involved in the work of many. Any position that is central to the flow of information will be a very influential one. And through his network of relationships within the organization the follower has great opportunity to persuade others and to make significant contributions to the success of the organization.
With this in mind, here are 6 ways that followers can use their power to influence their leaders, and ultimately the direction and success of their organizations.
Overcome the barrier
Most relationships between leaders and followers are characterized by certain degrees of emotion and behavior based on authority and submission. A leader is an authority figure, and may play a disproportionately large role in the mind of a follower. Followers may find themselves being overcritical of the leader, or rebellious, or passive. Some leader-follower relationships are similar to parent-child relationships, and people may find themselves engaging in old family patterns when relating to their leaders.
Healthy followers will first understand that we are all one in Christ:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)
In Christ we are all equal; thus, followers are not inherently subordinate. With this perspective, we can all relate well to our leaders, while maintaining the appropriate respect.
The healthy follower has given up idealized images of his leader and knows that all leaders are fallible and make mistakes. This acceptance of the leader’s humanity is the foundation of a healthy relationship. We must view our leaders as they really are; not as we think they should be or would like them to be.
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. (1 Cor. 3:5)
In addition, good followers will present realistic images of themselves. They will not try to hide their weaknesses or cover their mistakes. Neither will they criticize their leaders to others; instead they will directly and constructively disagree with them.
Strive to understand
The healthy follower will go to lengths to understand his leader, asking such questions as:
- What is the leader trying to accomplish in the long-term?
- What are his short-term goals?
- What does the leader want me to accomplish – and how does that relate to question #1?
- Why is the leader in charge? Why did God choose this person for this position?
- Does my vision line up with the leader’s vision?
- Do my goals advance the leader’s vision – or conflict with it?
- What kinds of problems most worry the leader?
- What kinds of victories most please the leader?
- What past experiences has the leader been through that have made him the way he is now?
- What pressures and challenges does the leader face now?
- What strengths do I have that can complement the leader’s weaknesses?
Build a relationship
Based upon trust and open, honest communication, healthy followers will build strong and genuine relationships with their leaders. This two-way relationship will be characterized more by mutual respect than by formal authority and hierarchy.
He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend. (Prov. 22:11; see also Eccl. 4:9-12)
Leaders need friends. Christian leaders never grow to the point where they no longer need vital relationships with others around them. Effective Christian leaders lead in a context of community – not as tough “ministry islands” off by themselves. In the body of Christ, no members are independent (1 Cor. 12). Jesus had friends (Matt. 26:36-38); how much more do we need friends! Paul, the great apostle, also had friends:
I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition. (1 Cor. 16:17-18)
These men traveled a long distance to minister to Paul. Notably, Stephanas was Paul’s own convert (v. 15)! However, he did not allow any distance to come between him and his dear friend Paul but took the initiative to seek him out in his time of need (cf. 2 Tim. 1:16-18). A close reading of Romans 16:1-16 show the depth of friendship that Paul enjoyed with a number of saints. The passage mentions several of Paul’s “beloved” friends and even a “spiritual mother” in verse 16!
Like Jesus and Paul, leaders need friends – and followers can provide that friendship.
Be a resource
Effective followers align themselves with the purposes of the organization. They understand their potential impact on the organization’s success or failure. They ask the leader about the vision and goals so they can help achieve them. They invite the leader to share about his experiences – both good and bad – in the organization’s history. They openly discuss their own personal goals and resources that they can contribute to the organization. They are candid about their weaknesses and constraints. In these ways, followers become sources of strength for their leaders.
Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men. (Prov. 22:29)
Help the leader improve
Followers can help their leaders become better leaders in a number of ways:
The follower who asks the leader for advice will help the leader to give it. If a leader senses that his input is well-regarded and desired, he will be more likely to give effective counsel rather than unsympathetic criticism.
The follower who tells the leader what he needs in order to succeed will help the leader know what to give him.
The follower who compliments and thanks the leader for treating him well will reinforce such behavior.
The follower who is honest when the leader is counterproductive will help him recognize the need for change.
If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest. (Eccl. 10:4)
At some point, most followers will complain about their leaders.
“My leader will not listen to me.”
“He will not encourage me.”
“He will not recognize my efforts.” But apart from the Lord Jesus, no leader will ever be perfect. All leaders can, however, improve in their leadership – and followers can help them to do so.