If you want to be a great leader, you have to be a great follower. I call this the paradox of leadership because it seems contradictory that a person who becomes a great leader would look to others for advice or have a high regard for other people. However, all the great leaders I have studied talk about the people who encouraged them or inspired them to do great things. An in almost every case, it wasn’t just one person who inspired them; it was a number of people. I have observed the following characteristics of great leaders that fit the paradox of leadership:
- They study successful people: They have devoted significant time and energy to studying great leaders of the past and present. They take careful note of the results that have made others successful and find ways to incorporate them into their daily life.
- They take direction: Great leaders are willing to take direction from others. The ‘others’ could be a spouse, a boss or a religious leader. The interesting thing is that it doesn’t matter; they respect others and are willing to listen and take direction regardless of their position.
- They are humble: Most of the great leaders, both past and present, are humble, unassuming people. By ‘humble’ I do not mean weak or simple, but modest and self-effacing. They have a way of inspiring greatness in others while not drawing attention to their own successes. They look for ways to help others build confidence and seem to find happiness the successes of the people they help.
I can think of many leaders (past and present) who embody these characteristics in their lives. Napoleon Hill exemplifies a leader who was a great follower. He studied the lives of successful people for more than 20 years and compiled his findings in the book Think and Grow Rich. He coined phrases like “thoughts are things” and “the mastermind” and quotes such as “whatever the mind of a man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” The interesting thing about Hill’s success as a leader was that he did not set out to become a leader. He humbly agreed to a challenge by Andrew Carnegie to learn about his secret and take it to the world. In part because of his willingness to be a follower (and a learner) he became a world renowned author and leader.
Who are some of the people you think are great leaders? Do they exhibit characteristics of the paradox of leadership? What are some of the other characteristics they possess? I would love to hear from you; please leave a comment!