What's the Problem? Leadership or Followership?

There are times in the life of every leader in which he turns around to realize the wrong people are following; or worse, that nobody is following at all. It's true on every level of leadership, from leading a small organization to leading a large country.

In those times, the leader has to ask himself (or herself) a pretty important question: Is this a problem with leadership or a problem with followership?

This is a really hard question to ask, because if we're any kind of leader at all we feel like we're leading in the right direction as clearly as we know how. As a result, the easiest reaction is to see the problem as a problem with followership - the people didn't listen, they don't value the direction we're going, they don't know what's good for them, they're stiff-necked and rebellious, etc...

Sometimes, this is a realistic reaction. Jesus faced a problem of followership (Matthew 12:39; Luke 19:28-40). Sometimes people don't follow good leadership for reasons that are entirely their fault.

My experience as a leader, however, is that the explanation most of the time for people not following my lead is not a problem of followership; it's a problem of leadership.

If you plan an event and the people you expected to show up don't show up, it could be a followership problem. More likely it is a leadership problem. They didn't think your event was worth the investment of their time. Either you failed to communicate the benefit of the event or you assumed people would value a "benefit" they didn't value.

If you are going in a certain direction and the people don't follow, it could be that they don't know what's good for them. It could be that they're stupid and didn't understand your directions. More likely, the problem is with you as a leader. You're either leading in the wrong direction and the people know it, or you're focusing on the wrong things.

Discerning whether failure-to-follow is a followership or leadership problem is the first step in moving ahead. If you accurately diagnose the problem, you'll never get back on track.