Four Ways Following a Leader Can Be Difficult

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. – John Maxwell

An old woodsman gives this advice about catching a porcupine: “Watch for the slapping tail as you dash in and drop a large washtub over him. The washtub will give you something to sit on while you ponder your next move.”

Inspiring leadership is needed now more than ever. What’s not inspiring, however, is watching reactionary leaders who are chasing porcupines with washtubs who never seem to be ahead of the game. What’s even more frustrating is trying to follow this type of leader.

A few years back Forbes contributor Eric Jackson wrote an article on the top ten reasons why large companies fail to keep their best talent. In a nutshell they are baldy managed, send mixed signals, and have misplaced priorities.  These things not only drive away your best talent but are the things that also undermine your ability to lead.  Here are four ways following a leader can be difficult and why it matters.

When there is no clear vision and purpose.

Simply put, if you don’t know where you are going as a leader what makes you think anyone will want to follow you? A chief hallmark of a leader in any organization is one who knows where he is going and why, and has convinced you of the same. If the vision and purpose of your organization is not clear among the leadership then you can be assured it is unclear to everyone else. If your vision or purpose is not known internally then those who have the most to gain from your service or product will be the ones who lose out.  This is a Leadership 101 issue. You will never succeed personally or as an organization if you can’t define your vision or purpose. What can you do about it? Define it. Share it. Do it.

When communication is not clear and consistent.

Communication is the lifeblood of your organization. It’s not something you leave to chance. Think for a moment of the measurable things within your organization that are important to you such as sales projections, budgets, or employee performance reviews. These are important things that you track and rightfully so. Communication deserves the same treatment. Nothing will frustrate the people in your organization more than poor communication. If they are in the dark about what is going on or they find out information second- hand then you are dropping the ball.  Be clear, consistent, and frequent with your communications and always be ahead of the curve. Getting information late can have the same negative consequences as not finding out at all.

When team members are not valued or respected.

Not all team members are equal in terms of responsibility, skills, or assignments. But all are worthy of being valued for what they contribute and are worthy of respect. This is a fundamental leadership practice that you should not even have to ponder. But leaders can be hard to follow when they fail to recognize the hard work and efforts that each person brings to the table. Not everyone’s experiences will be the same but everyone’s input has value. Leaders can be hard to follow (and rightfully so) when they allow unprofessional conduct such as bullying to go unchallenged. Leaders worthy of being followed will take a stand and not allow it. Smart leaders give their team members respect and value their expertise. They make following a pleasure.

When leaders are inconsistent and fail to set the right example.

What followers of any leader want more than anything else is a leader who is consistent. They want to follow a leader who knows who they are, where they are going, and have made a compelling case for their leadership. Followers don’t mind weathering the storms. They will follow you through good times and bad so long as you remain true to your values and do the right thing. Yes, leadership can be hard, but even more so for followers who want a leader who says what he means and does what he says.

What do you say?


© 2014 Doug Dickerson


If you enjoy reading Doug’s leadership insights you will especially enjoy his books, Leaders Without Borders & Great Leaders Wanted. Order them at