In its simplest form, a leader is just someone who has a follower.
In the world of professional road racing cycling, the rider who crosses the line first does so because of their team. The British cyclist, Bradley Wiggins, caught the world’s attention recently by winning the gruelling Tour de France. And yet, it is widely recognised that he would not have done so had it not been for his teammates who supported him throughout, enabling him to be in a position where he could win. Some in the team specialise in hill climbing; others in flat sprinting. During every stage of the race, each would take their turn to lead, pulling the rest of the team along in their slipstream, conserving the energy of Wiggins until the time came when he needed it most.
Importantly, whoever is leading at any one time needs to know how to do so – taking responsibility for the group, inspiring those behind to stay focused and follow. Equally, those following need to trust the leader, having faith in their ability to do the job, while replenishing their own reserves until it’s time for them to take the lead again.
This is the culture of race cycling. A culture of mutual support, trust, and belief. It’s one in which the value of a good follower is recognised as much as a good leader.
In business there is a huge emphasis on leadership and being a good leader. Little is often said about the critical role of those who follow. Those organisations that thrive over an extended period are those that have a culture of clear leadership, sourced from a higher purpose or Why, combined with aligned, supportive followership. And as with cycling, there comes a time when the followers need to lead too – through their actions, respectful challenge and, importantly, who they’re Being. Followership is not about subservience; it’s about recognising that a leader can only be successful if they have a strong team behind them all the way.
Investing time in creating a Why-based culture that cherishes strong followership as well as leadership is rarely wasted. As the British cycling team have demonstrated, both are needed in equal measure in order to excel.