In a grade-obsessed country like Singapore, being the top in class and being seen as a leader is often glorified. On the flip side, being marked as a "follower" is usually a sign of weakness. Leaders take charge and bask in the limelight in school or at the office. Followers fade into the background... (kua kua~~) Google any self-improvement course and you'll see how they commonly advertise their ability to teach you great leadership skills, but completely ignore the merits of being a follower.
There isn't anything wrong about encouraging people to take up leadership positions, however, the way being a follower is framed in society has such a negative connotation that it becomes unhealthy. There isn't anything wrong about NOT being a leader. In this post, I will highlight some of the great aspects of being a follower within a school environment.
You develop a heightened sense of teamwork
In practically every group project in school, teamwork is one of those essential life skills that everyone should know how to apply in order to add value to themselves as an efficient groupmate. No one likes a person who doesn't listen to others' opinions well, and bosses everyone else around.
Followers always work in a team. The spirit of teamwork, camaraderie and collaboration is embedded in every follower's personality. As a leader, often a dominant personality and a need to stand out prevents teamwork from being applied. But by being a follower, you will find that you have more time to listen well, and adapt to others' working styles better. You might even find yourself enjoying working alongside your other group members as you tackle that assignment together.
You become an invisible influence
I'm sure you have heard of the saying "An army is only as good as its leader." However, it is also true that an army is only half as good without its followers. What's the use of an army that consists of only generals and none of the troops?!
A general misconception about followers is that they meekly go along with whatever the leaders tell them. That is completely untrue. Good followers invest time and energy into making informed decisions and judgements about the tasks that is placed before them.
Imagine you are working on a group project and you weren't assigned the role as the group leader. Although the group leader is the one to manage the project, without you and the other members to contribute ideas and deliver your individual parts, the project will never be executed well! All of you have a part to play in ensuring a good score comes out from your combined efforts. You may have lacked the authority, but you certainly do not lack power and influence.
You become the best kind of leader
It is mainly the lack of awareness and understanding that makes bad leaders. A good and efficient leader embodies certain particular traits that resulted from him or her once being a good and efficient follower. One of the best things about being a follower is that it teaches you to become more aware of the needs of the people around you. To understand what motivates them and pushes them, that you probably wouldn't be able to if you were busy supervising the entire group from a top-down perspective.
Although not every follower aspires to be a leader, nonetheless, one cannot mature into taking up a position of authority without first demonstrating the ability to follow and function effectively in a group setting.
In today’s highly competitive world, we are constantly encouraged to strive for a leadership role. I personally think that it is good to aspire for progress and promotion, especially when you have worked so hard to achieve it. However, seeing follower-ship as being "bad" or having negative connotations causes you more harm than good.
Being a follower is not just something you have to force yourself to go through, until the day you become a leader. Instead there are many merits that can be gleaned from follower-ship, like commitment, collaboration, teamwork, and solution-finding which are at the core of every successful person's personality.