Organization & Leadership Consulting

‘A’ – Leaders and Their People or, ’ B’- People and Their Leaders?

“People want to be led,” Says Donald Miller, author, communicator, and founder of several companies. He then tells stories that illustrate the statement, very convincing stories. 

While it is true that plenty of people want to be leaders, and are, the reality within Donald Miller’s statement begs at least two questions. The answer to each question determines the direction in which that leader is likely to develop.

  1. Does a leader “have” followers?
  2. Or do followers choose their leader?

Let’s go with the idea that a leader can “have” followers. How does that tend to play out? At various levels of that leader’s thinking, beliefs, and motivations, his/her followers over time and to various degrees become viewed as their minions. I once heard a manager of several departments describe her staff in this way. Eventually, based on 360-degree feedback, she was removed from any role that involved the direct supervision of other people. 

The viewing of others as minions may or may not be obvious to either the leader, the followers, or even to observers, but it is a real thing. When people are thought of as minions, they are also perceived as less than a full person. You can imagine where that ends up. (If you can’t, take a look at the impact of ideologies that dehumanize those who don’t fit their ideal.)

A Leader can Invite

A leader can invite someone to join their team, unit, department, organization, cause, etc. That leader can even persuade others to accept the invitation or go so far as to coerce them to do so. But just because someone is following orders does not mean they are following the person giving the orders. There is likely someone else in the organization that they actually follow…and at times long for that person to be placed in an official leadership role.

People Choose Their Leaders

People choose their leaders. You pick the people you want to follow, right? You may report to someone at work or submit to someone in a position of authority, but do you follow them? We will make this compromise because we believe in the cause they represent or because we want to avoid negative consequences. We all learn ways to do this without truly following a particular individual. A true follower is in it with their head, heart, and hands (and feet, and soul, and so forth). 

People will put up with a poor leader to be a part of a cause or to fulfill a survival need. The latter is not the same as following someone who will help you thrive. 

Are you leading to “have” a following, or to create environments and opportunities for others to contribute to a cause in a way that brings them joy and meaning?

So what’s it going to be mostly about…A) Your achievements or B) Their development?


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