Following the Leader

Whilst I hate to admit it, I was watching Celebrity Apprentice last night and Mark Bouris said something profound to Pattie Newton.

I have heard it said before, but only ever in a classroom environment in a theory based lesson on effective leadership, and never in a real world environment.


“You don’t have to lead to be a leader. If people follow you, then you are a leader.”


Its one of those oxymoron like phrases that sounds better when you say it backwards. Anyway, I have to say I completely agree with this and have discovered through my own management experience and observations that it is perfectly true.

A colleague once admitted to me that he’d prefer me to be managing the team rather than the manager we had at the time. That wasn’t me setting out to take on more responsibility; that was a follower asking for leadership. I’m not saying they were giving me a big head (feeding the ego), and I’m not being disrespectful towards my old colleague. It’s just a clear example where someone has pointed out that from their observations of my work, they would rather seek direction from me than the manager we had. You don’t need to be actively seeking people out to follow your lead. Sometimes just being an example is enough that others will see your behaviour and want to do the same. Over time they will seek out your opinions and look to you for guidance.

There is however a huge difference between being a manager and a leader. A manager is appointed to manage a team of people or resources. They may do it well, but that alone does not make them a leader. If members of their team actually want to work for that manager and seek that manager out for advice and guidance – then they are a manager. I used to work for a guy that was my boss. He was not a leader. He was bossy to the point of being demanding. He was so rude and abrupt, no-one liked him – in fact they avoided him. If he demanded something from you, you did it as quickly and perfectly as you could to avoid having another run in with him. He was not a leader. He was effective as a manager since he got the job done, but no-one enjoyed working for him and as a result he did not have the respect of anyone in the team.

About 2 years ago I was giving one of my staff members his annual performance evaluation and he asked me about one of the core values he was being marked against – Leadership. He said “How can I score better at Leadership when I’m at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder with no-one reporting to me?” I explained, “Leadership is not about managing people; it’s about influence and being the person that people seek out for guidance. Its about how you can set a benchmark for how things should be done so that others will aspire to do the same”.

Unfortunately leadership can be taken in different directions through both positive and negative influences. If people look to you for direction and you set a bad example, they are likely to do one of two things – emulate your bad example which dilutes your leadership brand, or stop following you altogether. Either way, you leadership, or at least the perception of your leadership, will be diminished. That’s why its important in everything we do, we should strive to do better so that the example we set, whether we know anyone is watching us or not, is worthwhile and true to ourselves. And if no-one is really watching, what’s the harm in trying to improve ourselves anyway?


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