We live in an age/culture where people have a weird, schizophrenic relationship with authority. We deeply distrust it, and yet we feel the need to hire “experts” for practically every aspect of life–stylists, chefs, life coaches, counselors, etc. We are afraid of being controlled and also afraid of trying to control ourselves.
The journey of becoming a healthy person, and then a healthy leader, requires us to learn how to have a healthy relationship with authority. This journey begins with learning to be a follower of Jesus, who teaches us that a mature disciple is not one who does His will blindly, but is powerful and responsible in aligning our hearts with His. In the process of following Him, we learn to follow others in authority in a healthy way.
Only by becoming a healthy follower can we become a healthy leader. Last week on the blog, we explored habits of healthy, effective leadership, and you can read more on that here. But in order to become a powerful leader, we must regularly have people in authority speak into our life with wisdom, challenges, feedback, and opportunities to stretch us.
So, what are some qualities of being a healthy follower?
1. Willingness to Follow
So much of the talk about “submission” in the church gets the biblical meaning of the term exactly backward. Submitting to a leader is not about being powerless and allowing someone else to manage your life and tell you how to think and what to do. It is about willingly making the powerful choice to align your life with a leader’s vision and values, because you trust them to protect you and your relationship with them. As a powerful person, a healthy follower understands that their trust in and willing submission to their leaders is their own responsibility to manage, not the leaders’.
Healthy followers have a growth mentality; therefore, they are teachable. My friend Banning Liebscher, lead pastor and founder of Jesus Culture says, “Teachability is really big for me, because it has to do with humility. If you can get people to buy into the concept that we all have to grow, which means we all have to be teachable, you will be creating leaders who carry a healthy culture.” Being teachable is not passively waiting for leaders to correct you, but actively seeking feedback and ways to grow. It also, as Banning says, requires humility. A person with humility is not a doormat; it is someone who stays aware of and takes responsibility for the impact they are having on the people around them.
3. Personal Responsibility
Someone willing to be led by a healthy leader will grow in their ability to be a powerful person. As they encounter a healthy leader’s expectation that they manage themselves, do what they say they are going to do, and clean up any messes they make to protect the relationships and productivity in their environment, the healthy follower will respond accordingly.
4. A Heart to Serve
In the kingdom, the ladder of promotion is a ladder of service. The person at the top of the ladder–Jesus–is the servant of all. You can tell you’re in a healthy leadership culture, therefore, when aligning your life with the values and vision of the leader centers on imitating the leader’s lifestyle of service. But even if you’re not in a healthy environment, you can align your life with Jesus’ value for serving and follow His example.
A follower is one who imitates. In imitating a healthy leader, a healthy follower automatically becomes a leader who others can imitate. Healthy followers are increasingly aware that their goal is to be a healthy model for others. They want to freely give away what they’re receiving from their leaders.
6. A Listening Posture
Being a good listener is not only a critical part of being teachable; it also a skill that every follower must learn in order to be an effective leader. Great leaders are not the loudest, most aggressive or assertive person in the room, but those who listen and respond effectively. Look for a leader who makes you feel “heard” and learn from them.
The goal of becoming a healthy follower is to be a healthy leader: to take what we have learned from another healthy leader and give it away to others. The process of leadership and growth can be slow and steady, waiting for the right timing to move from being a follower to leading others. Learning to fully submit to healthy leadership will help determine the readiness of the follower for leadership. Trust is the key factor in allowing someone else to lead you. Today I challenge you to seek out healthy leadership, and trust the path of growth they will bring to your life.
PS) Portions of this blog are taken directly from the second session of our most recent addition to the Life Academy, the Cultures and Conversations track. I sat down with the leaders of Jesus Culture to talk about creating culture and leadership. Join our Life Academy community for more interaction and discussion with our leaders here.
PPS) If you would like to learn more about leadership, check out our Leadership Track of the Life Academy. We explore more topics for growth, as well as engage with others in our online community. Learn more here.
PPPS) If you are interested in learning more about what we do here at Loving on Purpose, check out our free resources (ebooks, classes, and webcasts) under our purchase tab here.