A common misconception is that someone is either a leader or a follower. The reality is that most of us engage in both followership and leadership at the same time. We may lead our team, but have to answer to another leader in our organization. Even CEOs and business owners often have a board or shareholders that they are accountable to. The good news about this dual nature that we find ourselves in is that the qualities that make a good follower are ones that help develop us to become great leaders. Patience, respect and trust are three of these traits.

Patience in Followership and Leadership

Patience is essential to achieving our goals. While it’s important to hustle and work hard, it’s also important to take some time to see if our actions are having the desired effect. Not all reactions to our actions are immediate and making adjustments to our plans too quickly can have more detrimental effects than staying the course.

As followers, exercising some patience with those who lead us allows them time to be deliberate and think through a problem in their decision-making process. While we may be anxious to start implementing the solution we have proposed to whatever issue is facing our organization, giving our leadership time to thoroughly consider options and impacts on the organization will ultimately result in better solutions. On a more personal note, having patience allows us to appreciate the moments when there isn’t a major intense crisis going on.

Great leaders recognize that being patient allows us to take time to let our initiatives and decisions work before correcting. Often implementing the solution to a problem is like trying to turn a very large ship around. After we start to turn the wheel, it will take some time and distance before we’ll see the ship start to turn. It will turn slowly at first, but eventually we’ll be headed in the direction we want. If we aren’t patient and turn too hard to make the ship turn faster, we will overshoot the course we want to be on and have to correct back to get back on course. Showing patience with the members of our team as they work through problems gives them more opportunities to grow and develop than if we hand them our preferred solution up front.

Respect – A Two-Way Street

Respect is key to building strong professional relationships among teams and between leaders and followers. Without respect, individuals can feel alienated and start to act in their own interests instead of those of the team or accomplishing the mission. When we are a member of a team and a good follower, showing respect for others on the team and our team leader creates an environment where it is safe for individuals to share their ideas and build upon them. Fostering respect on the team ultimately results in optimized processes and operations that help us better achieve our mission. Team leaders are responsible to build this culture of respect by setting the example of respectful behavior. Allowing individuals to present their ideas and be given full consideration goes a long way towards building respect among the team. As leaders, one of the best ways we can foster respect on our team is to provide constructive feedback and insisting the other members of the team do the same, even if the ideas presented are not fully formed or on the mark.


Much like respect, trust is essential to a team that wants to perform at the highest levels. Having trust in others on our team means letting them engage in their part of the effort without judgment. They may not do the job the way we would do it or as effectively as we think they should, but if the team is meeting the goals and accomplishing the mission, we can trust them to do their part. If we are team leaders and there is a lack of trust on our team, members start to hold back on ideas, engage in private conversations that don’t include all stakeholders and jockey for favor. When the team doesn’t have trust in their leader, individuals may put forth only the bare minimum effort or, in some cases, actively work against the leader or go over their head to higher management. Building trust in our teams involves letting people make mistakes and correct the situation. Leaders will always need to provide corrective feedback and in some cases remove a team member who is not performing, but having trust in our team members when they are making good faith efforts to contribute will build a stronger team that shows initiative and puts in the extra work when it is needed.

Patience, respect and trust are key traits that are needed by both followers and leaders to build successful, high-performing teams. We can actively become better followers and leaders at the same time by consciously exhibiting behaviors that are consistent with all three of these qualities.

Tell us in the comments what other good follower traits help with developing our leadership skills.

Photo Credit: By Thomas Wilson Pratt Slatin, http://www.tomslatin.com/ (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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