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How to Become Your Company's Chief Following Officer

Ken Gosnell
Ken Gosnell

To help organizations and companies grow, leaders often have to step back so others can step forward.

In leadership circles, conversations usually revolve around either leaders or followers. However, leaders must embrace both leadership and followership. In other words, leaders not only lead followers, but leaders are followers as well. It is a paradox in building leaders, an organization must develop good followers. There is no MBA program or business group that elevates the concept of followership as an essential element of learning how to lead a successful enterprise. But followership is essential to leadership done well. Often in order to help organizations and companies grow, leaders often have to step back so others can step forward.  

In good leadership, followership is not an option, but an essential component of working to hear the words well done. Business leaders and CEOs can lead their organizations better when they become not only better leaders but also better followers.  

Become a Better Leader by Learning to Follow 

One of the most critical areas for leading an organization is in the area of followership. Although there are many ways for a leader to follow, consider the following areas, and assess how well you are setting the example of followership for your organization. 

1.   Practice self-control by saying, “No.”

Practice self-control by saying, “No” to tasks and projects when others in my organization are more gifted and talented to lead in those areas.  

Leaders who follow well understand and embrace the principle of letting their “yes” be “yes” and their “no” be “no.” One area where a leader should practice saying, “No” in their organization is when they know they are responsible for a task or project, but someone else on their team has more gifts, abilities, talents, and experiences in that specific field enabling that team member to complete the job with better results.  

The best leaders are self-aware to know that they do not lead everything well.  The use of leadership assessment and tests can help a leader identify the areas where they need to step back and propel others forward.  The best leader knows themselves and their teams well enough to know where they are weak and where their team is strong.  This knowledge can help a leader to rely on the strengths of others on their team.  When a team leads together they can accomplish more than what one leader on the team can accomplish alone.                              

2.   Practice humility through listening to the ideas of others.  

Humility is essential to good leadership—and good followership.  Leaders who follow well will practice humility in every aspect of their leadership. One way that a leader can show humility is through listening to the ideas of others on their team. When a leader listens to their team, it shows the team that each person is valuable, and everyone’s insights are welcomed.  

Do you feel like you have to know all the answers for your organization? Do you elevate those in your organization who have expertise and knowledge in specific areas by honoring them with your questions and listening to their ideas? This habit is a way leaders can honor and lift up their team.  By doing so, you are humbling yourself before your team; they will be impacted by your attitude and want to follow you better.  

Show your team how to follow by practice active listening when you are talking with them about decisions, actions, and tasks that are happening in the organization. Leaders who lead well make focus on each person on the team one at a time. A leader who listens to their team members will find a wealth of information and insight on how to lead the company better.  

3.  Practice belief in my team by rejecting upward delegation.  

Upward delegation is when a designated project leader on your team gives a responsibility or task back to the top leader because they don’t know how—or do not want to—complete the task they have been given to complete. Leaders who practice the art of followership will reject upward delegation because it represents an important opportunity for the team member to lead and the leader to follow.  

When a leader delegates effectively, they are practicing good followership. When a leader accepts back responsibilities for tasks they have given to others, they place themselves back into the leadership role and become responsible for the project. Leaders should refuse to accept back those tasks that they have given to others.  A leader will excel in followership when they defeat attempts at upward delegation. When a leader has released responsibility to a team member, they are free to embrace the new project or task that will propel their organization forward.   

Effective leaders know when to step back so that their followers can step forward.  Leaders who delegate effectively will release both tasks and authority.  Team members can often become discouraged and disengaged in organizations when they are not given the authority to make decisions which they think are in the organization’s best interests as they lead their department or team.   

Leaders practice followership when they release control to their team, and no longer feel the need to micromanage every decision and action.   These leaders give authority and control and release their teams to act. A leader will practice the best followership when they provide important and essential tasks to their team and release their team to accomplish the task as they see fit.

4.  Practice service by helping my team to succeed.  

Business owners and CEOs practice followership when they communicate that they see themselves as servants to their business and their teams. Leaders should pursue servanthood over greatness. Servant leaders do all that needs to be done. Genuine followership is about having the heart to help another person in a leadership position to accomplish their mission. Leaders who serve their teams encourage them to be successful. By cheering for team members, they convey their belief in them.  

Leaders who serve their teams see every task as important. This type of leader is willing to do any and every task in the organization.  One statement that good leaders make to their team members is "your task is important" because the leader understands that every task in the organization is important and essential to the success of the organization.    

Every successful leader knows that they must create a vision in their organization that they are willing to do whatever is necessary in order to help the organization and team move forward together. When a leader shows an attitude of they are willing to do whatever is necessary, they lead the team to develop that same spirit and attitude which will help lead the entire organization to serve one another.  

5. Practice Thoughtfulness by considering other people’s points of view.  

The leader who practices good followership understands what is happening the life of the follower.  Team members feel valued when the leader considers their viewpoint.  It is a good leadership attitude to enhance the interests of others before being concerned with your own interests. This is followership. The follower is always interested in what is best for others.  When a team member feels cared for, they will care for the organization.  

Followership teaches leaders to elevate the needs of the team.  Many human resource issues could be resolved in an organization if teams were led by leaders who understood the needs and desires of team members.  When a team understands that their leaders see their point of view, they are more energized to follow the lead of the leader.  It is also good for the leader to practice thoughtfulness to their team.

Leaders who understand their followers will attract and retain the best followers because they will convey that they understand what followers want and need to follow well.  It is only the leader that learns to follow well, who will lead the organization well.  


Leaders who wish to lead their organizations well will intentionally practice followership. They move into the seat of the follower so that others on their team can practice leading. Of all the roles that a leader engages in, one of the most critical to their success is the role of followership. Leaders are both a leader and a follower.  Leaders who wish to lead well will embrace followership by practicing the habits and attitudes of great followers.

Image Credit: Sythr5 / Getty Images
Ken Gosnell
Ken Gosnell Member
Ken Gosnell is the CEO and Servant Leader of CEO Experience (CXP). His company serves CEOS and leaders by helping them to have great experiences that both transform them and their organizations that enable to go further faster. Ken is the publisher of the CXP CEO Executive Guide that is designed to help leaders learn faster by encouraging to give themselves a monthly learning retreat. His monthly CEO retreats have helped thousands of CEOs and their leadership teams to enhance strategic, operational and people accomplishments. He is an author, keynote speaker, executive coach, and strategic partner with CEOs and successful business leaders. Connect with @ken_gosnell on Twitter.