"Dissatisfaction and discouragement are not caused by the absence of things, but the absence of vision." -Anonymous
What is the primary thing that makes a leader?
Someone who claims to be a leader, yet has no one following them is just taking a walk by him or herself.
A leader will always have a following. A leader has vision. The best leaders facilitate following leaders who also have vision. These leaders have not only led others, but empowered others. They are not insecure, and therefore power-hungry. They understand that if what they are leading is to be great, it has to be bigger than them. The only way to make something live beyond you is to train up and mentor future leaders.
But what about those who are being mentored and following this leadership? What is their role? How are they supposed to lead when they still have a leader?
I've watched and worked with leaders who have gone down dark paths, because they either weren't taught how to be a following leader or they were just purely selfish. One thing is certain: Before you can lead, you must learn to follow.
I've been blessed to be under a leader who is definitely my authority, yet he allows me to bring some vision to the table. Not everyone is under a leader that empowers them, but everyone who is under a leader has a responsibility to that leadership.
So, how do those following leaders lead under authority without losing their vision?
Here's some things I've learned as a following leader:
Appreciate your Role
What is your role and purpose? More than likely, someone has put you under their authority to fulfill a role. Do that role well. You accepted the role, so own it. Be the best you can be. Your leader should never have to worry about motivating you to fulfill the responsibility that you have agreed to. Usually when people become less than satisfactory in their position, that person has lost the passion for that position. They either need to reclaim that passion or move on. It's not fair to those that you serve, if your heart is not in it. When we quit appreciating our role, we're cheating ourselves and those that benefit from it.
Be Loyal to Your Leader
When I accepted my first position at a church, my Dad's main advice was to be loyal to my leader at all times. Loyalty is all about being on the same team. Loyalty is not about agreeing. It's about support. It's perfectly fine and normal to disagree with your leader at times, but the moment you start telling people about your disagreement, you become disloyal. That disagreement should be between you and your leader. As a following leader, we should be loyal to our leader, even if they're a jerk. It's your choice to remain under that authority. If you can't be loyal, get out of there. Loyalty will open doors for you to be a leader. Your leader will be more receptive to you if they know they can trust you. The vision you have as a leader has a better chance to be manifested in your present situation, if those in authority know you are on their side. If there are sides, make sure you're on the leader's side. Be loyal. I've never regretted being loyal. A following leader owns being a great follower.
Loyalty is about being on the same team. Communication is all about being on the same page. Major issues can arise and fester if we don't learn to be great communicators. Never assume people know what you're thinking. Communication breeds expectation. You can't expect those those you're leading to complete a task well, if you haven't clearly communicated it to them. Communicate to those over you and under you. You can never over-communicate. If you have an issue with your leader, let them know. I remember when I first started working for my pastor. I was really the only one that would go talk to him if I had a problem with him. That's also a huge aspect of loyalty. As a leader, wouldn't you rather have those under you come and talk to you if they have a problem with you? If you say no, then you're not cut out for leadership. Communication is not just about giving information. It's also about receiving information. A great communicator is a great listener. You cannot help people unless you know where they are at. Assumption seems to be the trait of someone that doesn't fully grasp communication. When you master the art of communicating your vision, you will lead with impact.
Your time will come. It may not be as swiftly as you would like, but your time to lead and carry out the full vision will come. When you let impatience get the best of you, that's when disloyalty and self-destruction will appear. Those over you are probably where they are because they were patient. They probably had to go through worse things than you have. Timing is everything. I am not a choir director at heart, but I led a traditional choir the first four years of my ministry. Every time I would get fed up with it, I would pray for patience. I'm glad I stuck with it, because I learned so much through that time and I appreciate living in the vision I had then even more now. Patience is a major virtue in leadership. When we wait for our vision to come into fruition at just the right time, it will mean so much more. Be patient.
Enjoy this Time
If you are under someone's authority, then you are not ultimately responsible. They are. Because I am not the main leader, I have the luxury of deferring problems that can only be resolved from the top. There has been many times that I've said, "That's not my problem." This is a luxury of being a following leader. You are not ultimately responsible. Enjoy this time.
Make the Most of this Time
If the vision you have is bigger than your current situation, then take this time to really flesh out, brainstorm and start planning the strategy and way you will eventually carry that vision. This is also a luxury for the following leader. Wisdom says prepare and plan now for what's to come later. One day you're not going to have as much time to sit and dream and brainstorm your philosophy and structure of the vision you have. You'll be too busy trying to carry it out. Make the most of your time now. Don't waste it.
Learn from Your Leader
You are probably somewhat different than your current leader. You've probably said, "If I was the leader, I would..." You probably think different. That's not a bad thing. That also means your leader thinks differently. They may have ideas you would not think of and they certainly have some wisdom you don't have yet. Watch and listen. Learn from their successes.
Also, learn from their mistakes. The comedian Dave Chapelle credits a lot of his success to studying and watching other comics bomb on stage. He learned what didn't work and what wasn't funny. Learning from our leader's mistakes is as valuable as learning from their successes. Not repeating mistakes is major progress.
A great leader will always be a great following leader first. Learn to follow without regrets. It will make you a much better leader when your time comes.