A CMO Show Blog Post
First, find a lone nut: How to be a great follower
A CMO Show Blog Post
First, find a lone nut:...

Leadership. Being a leader. You create something that never existed before using nothing but willpower and sweat and duct tape. Then people see it, buy into it, into you, and you have a team. Together you take on the world.

There’s a lot written about the leadership part, but what of the team? What of being a follower? In the words of tech entrepreneur Derek Sivers, leadership is over-glorified. It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader.


Joining Filtered Media was a left step into a career I’d never imagined. I was lining all my ducks up for a great role somewhere else, when I had a conversation with our now-CEO. And as soon as the line disconnected, I thought – now there’s someone worth following.

It was the first time I’d ever thought about following. Did I trust the vision he was sketching? Would I have the courage to stake some future on it? After three years, the answer is still yes.

So here’s what I’ve learned about being a great follower.

Think critically 

Leaders of start-ups or small businesses are often more about ideation than implementation. A great follower is a conduit between a leader’s vision and the reality of making it happen.

To do this, you’ll need to think for yourself. Take a wide view of the business, its projects, your team, and make recommendations based on your insights. Be unafraid and diplomatic in your criticism when a leader is off point, and celebrate and support when they’re spot on.

Screenshot of the profile of Prof. Barbara Kellerman is a lecturer in public leadership at Harvard University
Prof. Barbara Kellerman is a lecturer in public leadership at Harvard University. She is the author of multiple works that cover the topic, including The End of Leadership and Followership: How Followers are Creating Change and Changing Leaders.

Learn to collaborate

A great follower has the power to influence how, and even if, goals are met. Your ability to mediate between a project’s vision and the reality of the work is your greatest asset to a leader.

One of the most important aspects of collaboration is understanding people’s strengths 

To collaborate you need to know two critical things: who you’re working with (and how they work); and the ultimate aim of the project. Once you have the who, and the why, the rest is just detail as you work together to complete your goal.

Have courage

As a follower, it’s your job to help make ‘it’ happen. Part of making vision reality is having the courage to dissent. Your leader is relying on your expertise to read the mood of a team or client, or reality-check an ambitious commitment or direction. Don’t be afraid to speak up.

Making the decision to follow means you’ve decided to give up a bit of control while you watch, act and learn, and that can be scary. But you saw something in this leader and their vision worth following, and you were right. Trust your decision.

So tell us, are you a leader or a follower? Explain why in the comments section below.

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