“The best leaders are those who were good followers first.”

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I have no idea who said this first, but it first fell on my ears when one of my mentors was my senior pastor and I was his staff member.

He was stressing what I’ve since learned is part of a lot of leadership development methodologies.  The idea is the people who lead the best are those who have learned to follow best.

Why you might ask?

It’s a reflection of self-control.  We read in Proverbs 10:8-9:

The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin. Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.  

Proverbs 10:8-9
New International Version

We often refer to someone as being “seasoned”—as in, “she is a well-seasoned executive.”  It means they have the experience, common sense, and skill to lead well—usually well beyond their years.

How did they get that way—how did you gain “seasoning”?  They learned how to follow well.  Our Proverb today states it clearly, “The wise in heart accept commands.”  It’s not implying we’re automatons and never stand up to bone-headedness in our supervisors.

It’s saying we have an attitude that respects authority and we do not take those confrontations lightly. 

My aforementioned senior-pastor-turned-mentor once told me how appreciative he was that no matter how much I disagreed with him in private, I stood with him and up for him in public.  For me, it was a matter of respecting his role.  He was helping me to have better leadership skill.

Learning to submit to someone when you don’t agree with them takes enormous self-control.  It is very difficult to fulfill the directives of someone with whom you do not agree.  Perhaps that’s why the Proverb tells us that is someone who “walks in integrity.” 

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Conversely, when we fight to make our disagreement known, we will find ourselves in a very challenging place where we are tempted to gossip, murmur, complain, and even rebel.  These are not spiritual attributes we want to have in our lives.

How do you do that?  How do you accept commands with the right spirit?

First, pray for a spirit of wisdom and not of foolishness.  The more you are tempted to disagree, the more you pray.  Of course, not every decision by our leaders needs to be followed.  Most, however, are just under the category of “not how we’d do it if we were in charge.”  Knowing the difference is a matter of wisdom.  Pray.  Pray.

Second, don’t die on every mountain.  Matter of fact, don’t think of dying on a mountain at all!  Some people will argue if you say the sky is blue.  Don’t be that person.  Learn to let stuff go.  You don’t have to agree with everything.  You don’t even have to agree with most things.  But please, don’t die on every mountain.  Let it go.

Lastly, remember that no one can make you angry without your permission.  You are not a victim of your emotions.  You can have self-control granted by the Holy Spirit.  Your reaction is not your leader’s fault; that’s yours.  You can’t always change their mind, but you can certainly not let it get to you.

Learn to lead by learning to follow.  Be wise.  Walk in integrity.  Follow with wisdom and integrity.