Knowledge Center


Article -> Sustainable Leadership for Followers

Date Added: April 2013

Note: This article appeared in the April 3, 2013 issue of The Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Last month’s article discussed servant leadership and creative tension. Doing both well requires making difficult decisions, something many are uncomfortable with.

Creative tension is the ability for people to disagree with each other in a constructive manner through facts and dialogue to achieve the greater good for the organization and people. Making difficult decisions means some people are unhappy.

Many people are unhappy if they have made others unhappy; or if others simply don’t like them. True servant leadership and creative tension are not possible in this instance.

One example is Abraham Lincoln. He was loved and despised by many. He made decisions he knew would make some people unhappy – even those closest to him. He constantly considered a greater purpose, something sustainable after his leadership.

A second example is Martin Luther King, Jr. He was also loved and disliked by many. He spoke freely about topics he knew would make people uncomfortable. He also envisioned a greater purpose reaching beyond his existence.

A noteworthy item to making difficult decisions and not fearing outcomes is continued success after a leader is gone. Some view this as legacy; however, legacy is self-serving. These leaders were not self-serving. The greatest leaders are those doing the most during the present time, while strategically thinking about the positive future impact.

They focused on why vs. what. They were able to effectively engage others in a cause by explaining why it was so important. They personalized something for people. Some were personally opposed; while those in support became actively engaged.

This active engagement and personalization created sustainability. In both examples, leaders were slain; yet, others continued the efforts. This is significant for leaders because an organization was not dependent upon them.

True servant leadership includes: making difficult decisions, not fearing effects of decisions, engaging people by focusing on why vs. what, and creating a new group of leaders to effectively implement in the absence of the leader. This is when followers become leaders.

Are you a leader able to engage others to succeed in your absence? Are you an engaged follower capable of leading?

David Yeghiaian is committed to leading people on a life-changing journey to being great leaders. Reach him at

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