Lead, follow, or get out of the way” is a statement made by leaders who are seeking to bring order to their organizations. I found this to be true during my first year as a teacher. Mr. Charles Montooth was my principal, and he was trying to lead me, a brash, critical, but highly motivated individual. Mr. Montooth called me into his office one day after a teacher’s meeting to politely tell me that I was rude to him in the meeting and discouraged me from making other professional mistakes. He was trying to help me become a good follower.
Now followship is not being second banana. Rather it moves you further along so you can become a leader. After this session with my principal, he later placed me on the accreditation committee so that I could know the workings of the school and follow the guidance of the chairman. After this assignment, and a year later I was given the first student teacher the school system had ever allowed to intern in a school. Now I was in charge of aiding a novice teacher to become skilled in an area of educational expertise. I had been moved “out of the way” and placed where I could learn followship.
Most good leaders have been in the role of a follower before they assume the head leadership position in an organization. To be a good leader you must be a good follower. The follower who expects to rise in an organization will exhibit the characteristics of listening, reflecting, complying, questioning, and legitimizing the leader. These traits allow a follower to become a successful leader.
Followship is Biblical. Abraham followed God’s direction; Joshua followed Moses, and Elisha followed Elijah. The latter two gives a great example of how followship works for the follower once the role of the leader is assumed. Elisha was anointed as a prophet by Elijah, and the first followed the second immediately (1 Kings 19:19–21). Elisha literally became a servant to Elijah, followed him wherever he went, and did the bidding of Elijah at every turn. Elisha’s loyalty to Elijah was so great that he was given the right to choose his own reward. Elisha asked to have a double portion of Elijah’s spirit and it was given. Elijah’s mantle of leadership actually fell to Elisha as Elijah was drawn into Heaven. The double portion of the spirit allowed Elisha to do more miracles and wonders than Elijah did in his tenure as a prophet.
In Matthew 4:18–20, Jesus said, “Follow me,” and Peter, Andrew, James and John obeyed. Later Peter, James and John became Jesus’ inner circle and His closest confidantes. These three were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 17:1; Mark 14:33). With these followers Jesus set up a line of succession for His forthcoming church. Eight other disciples followed in succession until there were a total of 12. Later in His three and one-half years of ministry Jesus would have other followers, but these were the ones He left to carry on His work.
Of the 12, one left but the other 11 were with Jesus prior to His ascension. Before leaving, Jesus told them to go and do ( Matthew 28:19–20). Jesus left these eleven to now become the leaders in His work. John 14:12 promises them and us that if we believe we will do even greater works than He did if we believe in Him.
Christians follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the commands of Jesus and the Laws of God. These spiritual directives make us all followers. We are designated to go and do and these actions require that we become leaders. Abraham became the Father of many nations, Joshua became the leader of the Israelites, and Elisha continued the work of Elijah. The 11 of the 12 disciples also moved from followers to leaders. Through their divine efforts they went into all nations and baptized people in the name of the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Further, they taught all that Jesus had commanded them (Matthew 28:18–19). By their going and doing these followers/leaders turned the world upside down for Jesus Christ.