Leader, Manager, Follower: Not as Simple as You Think

https://triplecrownleadership.com/leader-manager-follower-not-as-simple-as-you-think/Leader, Manager, Follower: Not as Simple as You Think
Leadership speakers and authors Bob Vanourek and Gregg Vanourek use this image of a smiling woman in front of other people to illustrate the importance of valuing your employees.

“Life’s a dance, you learn as you go. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.” -song lyric, by John Michael Montgomery

Which are you: a leader, manager, or follower?

More importantly, which should you be? Can you be them all? Should you? It’s an important choice.

Too often, leadership is lionized while management and followership are disparaged. Big mistake.

 We submit that great leadership is a situational blend of leading, managing, and following.



Traditional notions of management involve:

  • Planning, budgeting, administering, staffing, organizing, directing, and controlling boundaries
  • Being task- and object-oriented
  • Using “head” skills such as financial or operational expertise
  • Being more concerned with stability, efficiency, bottom-line results, and the short-term
  • Being focused on problem-solving, tactical issues, keeping emotional distance from people, using position power, and telling people what to do
  • Asking “how” and “when”

Many people use “management” and “leadership” interchangeably, but there are important differences between them, even though both are needed for organizations to function well. There are hundreds of definitions of leadership and adjectives that describe the leadership (visionary, charismatic, servant, transformational, etc.).



Traditional notions of leadership involve:

  • Innovating, synthesizing, inspiring, aligning, and reducing boundaries
  • Being more people- and change-oriented
  • Using “heart” skills such as character, empathy, courage, and emotional intelligence
  • Focusing on opportunities, what might be possible, and the long-term
  • Focusing on strategic issues, connections with people, listening, asking questions, helping others grow, and serving
  • Asking “what” and “why”



Followers are essential for any organization. But passive followers are not as useful to achieving organizational objectives as engaged followers.

Passive followers are:

  • Not particularly loyal, committed, connected, or engaged
  • They take direction, do what they are told, and sometimes deliver results
  • They work independently
  • They are reactive, compliant, and more personally driven
  • They often say, “That’s not my job”

Engaged followers on the other hand are invaluable to an organization.

Engaged followers are:

  • Loyal, committed, connected, and engaged
  • They take direction but they use their initiative, follow through, and hold themselves accountable to deliver results
  • They collaborate
  • They are proactive, reliable, professional, diligent, and thorough
  • They often say, “I’ll help with that,” even if it is not  in their job description


Different Roles

Manager, leader, follower: different roles. But the complexity of organizational dynamics does not allow for clear separation of these roles.

At the best, people are not only leading, or managing, or following. These activities ebb and flow in the same person, depending on the situation, the people, and the choice of the person. A dynamic dance.

Sometimes we must lead. And sometimes we must manage. Sometimes we must follow. They go hand in hand—more than we think.

  • Those who are always leading may miss important opportunities to help others develop their own leadership abilities and may neglect the tactical issues of keeping the trains running on time.
  • Those who are always managing may miss opportunities to see beyond the current fray and help the organization and its people rise to a new level.
  • Those who are always following may miss the chance to learn, grow, and stretch themselves by taking on challenges and risks and fighting for larger causes.


Core Concept

Great leadership is a blend of leading, managing, and following.


Practical Applications

  1. What role do you play most often at work: leading, following, or managing?
  2. What’s keeping you from exploring and integrating other roles?


Leadership Derailers Assessment

Take this assessment to identify what’s inhibiting your leadership effectiveness. It will help you develop self-awareness and identify ways to improve your leadership.



Bob Vanourek and Gregg Vanourek are leadership practitioners, teachers, trainers, and award-winning authors. They are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards, and called “the best book on leadership since Good to Great.” Take their Leadership Derailers Assessment or sign up for their newsletter. If you found value in this, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

https://triplecrownleadership.com/leader-manager-follower-not-as-simple-as-you-think/Leader, Manager, Follower: Not as Simple as You Think