woman looking at computer screen

What is the Most Important Aspect of Leadership?

What is the one thing a leader needs? It's not a particular quality. Here we discuss how following is the most important part of leadership.

What does it take to be a great leader? Are there certain skills a successful leader needs? Is there any one thing a leader needs to cultivate above all others to advance? 

Maybe you’ve been put in charge of a team and don’t know where to begin. There is a lot of information out there about what it takes to be a leader. And it might be overwhelming to determine where to start so you can feel like you know what you’re doing. We want you to know it’s ok to be overwhelmed and to be scared. Every leader is scared - they just might not admit it out loud. We have been where you’re at, and we were terrified to start leading others. And that fear never really went away, we just learned how to dance with it each day.

Understanding the importance of following  is a great place to start if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing as a leader. Or maybe a new leader has been assigned to your company or your team and you have no idea how to help them. Discovering how to be an effective follower can allow you to support the leaders in your organization so the company can succeed.

During her 30-year career, Michelle Mosolgo held executive level roles in Technology, Human Resources, and Corporate Entrepreneurship. As an executive with a Fortune 50 company, Michelle learned the value of trust, community, and acceptance of vastly different ways of working and thinking as she worked with people across the globe. She's known for discovering the amazing hidden talents in her team and mentored more than 25 successful business leaders. 

Ron Macklin realized early in his engineering career that he had a passion for leading teams. He went on to lead teams that set nine world records and won dozens of customer satisfaction awards. At Siemens, for example, Ron led a support division with 350 employees that worked over 5 million hours without a lost-time injury and was voted “the best place to work in Houston” by the Houston Business Journal. Twice Ron has created a growth culture responsible for increasing profits by $20 million, and has led seven different groups from worst- to best-in-class. 

Here, Michelle and Ron discuss one of the most important factors in leadership: following. Without followers, there is no leader. 

There is No Leadership Without Following

Michelle Mosolgo: I want to talk about followership. I think that's a very underrated role in leadership. The reason I say that is I've been pretty successful in parts of my career by being a very powerful follower in addition to leading. What's your thoughts about followership? And how important is that?

Ron Macklin: Without a follower, there is no leader. You're all alone. So followership is the most important part of being a leader.

When I look at followership, the first place I start is, “what is my way of being? Do I trust this person? Do I choose to trust this person?” If you choose to trust someone, how they show up will be different. If you choose to see them as caring, as insightful, as open, as brilliant, you will see them as those things when they're speaking to you.

As a follower, the responsibility is to help the leader take care of everybody. And you can do this by creating your way of being so that you can be of help. 

Imagine if everybody in the group looks at the leader and thinks, "I don't trust them. They aren't smart enough. They went to the wrong school."

If you have those stories in your head, you will not be able to follow. You may look like you're following. But what you're really working on is how to sabotage the leader so that they don't have a job anymore.

That's not following. That's being an enemy (and a covert one at that).

So when you're being a follower, decide to be supportive. This doesn't mean the person that you're following will not make mistakes. And it doesn't mean that you will blindly follow them.

But if you start with deciding to be supportive, you can be of help to whoever is leading.

If you set out to sabotage them, you won't be following. Sabotage is not a following move. That's a leading move. You're leading the group to basically undermine somebody.

Every leader is afraid. I don't care how confident they may look. Inside, they're still scared, and they're looking for help. When you're there to help them, you will become an ally to them so quickly, and they will want to help you grow your career to do that.That's the key.

Michelle: You know, when I think about followership, I go back to a story that I saw on Youtube a long time ago. There's a big field. People are sitting around having picnics, and this guy gets up. He starts dancing goofy. Everybody looks at him. And he's dancing in the midst of everyone, and I am sure he's scared.

But then an amazing thing happens.

Somebody gets up and joins him. The first follower. This person had the courage to get up and join in. Then another guy gets up, and then the third guy gets up. Before you know it, everybody's dancing with this guy and having a blast. And I always remember that when I think about followers, especially the courage it takes to follow. It's a very powerful role, one that at times can be extremely underrated for a lot of people.

Ron: What I love about your story is the word courage. Somebody had the courage to dance weird in front of all these people in the first place.

But the person who had the most courage was the second person to start dancing that way.

The first person did it. But everyone wasn't wasn't watching, right? They started to watch. But for the second guy, the whole group in this field is now watching the guy dance. And the second guy comes in to join him. That takes an amazing amount of courage now that everyone is watching.

That first follower is what enabled everybody else to follow.

It doesn't matter whether it's dancing in the field, or building a business, or setting up a new organization, or taking on a new challenge, or working in your family. It's the first person and the second person's courage that creates a space for others to join and create.

How can you be a better follower for leadership?

Are you surprised that following is one of the most important aspects of leadership? Can you think of times you’ve been a great follower for the leaders in your life? Or have you maybe found yourself sabotaging leadership - whether it’s been intentional or more subtle? 

We'd love to connect with you about what you are noticing about leadership and how it shows up in your own life. If you are interested in continuing the conversation, you can join us in our online community to access even more content and connect with others. In our community, you can explore articles centered around sharing vulnerable, authentic stories to help you start to create the life you want. You can also access a library of courses and build connections with others who want to change the world one relationship at a time.