Follow the Leader: 3 Unique Traits of a Successful Follower

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    Followership does not get the recognition it needs. Read about one nurse who embraced the life of followership. Learn how you can be a better follower.

    Follow the Leader: 3 Unique Traits of a Successful Follower

    In today's world of Kardashian's and Beyonce's we are all looking for someone to follow. Yet, when you ask nurses to be followers at work, you will likely not have a long line of eager individuals ready to conform. Today, I would like to give you an example of a nurse who knew her important role as a follower in regards to her individual success and the success of her unit as a whole. Let's call her Nurse L, one of the first nurses I encountered as a new graduate.

    Nurse L had been a nurse in a busy Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for many years when our paths crossed. She had never taken a leadership role and worked night shift by choice, even after almost 30 years as a Registered Nurse. She could be a leader, but her chosen path was followership. She would precept new staff, take charge in codes and filled various roles in committees. But, she would proudly proclaim that her place was at the bedside. Working beside Nurse L, I never really thought about the impact she had on my perception of followership. However, during the past year, as my career was undergoing several changes, I found myself reflecting on her unique knack for followership and her contentedness in this role.

    If you are thinking that I am going to describe a nurse who sat sheepishly in the corner and followed every directive given, you are greatly mistaken. Not only was Nurse L a highly skilled clinical nurse, she was a nurse with drive, opinions and a voice that was heard. She was respected and respectable. When I reflect on her role as a follower, there are 3 unique traits that come to mind. Let's explore these traits and the unique role of followership in nursing.

    Accountability - Nurse L was a nurse of her word. Whether she was agreeing to a schedule change or hanging an antibiotic for you, her word was golden. This gave her a reputation of trustworthiness with both co-workers and nursing leadership. Everyone knew that what she said was honest and trustable. She knew her role as a staff nurse and performed it well. This was an important part of her relationship with leaders.

    Leaders knew they could depend on her to follow through on any commitments she made. They knew having Nurse L in their corner was seen as an accomplishment by other staff nurses. Her support was sought after by peers and leaders alike because she was a woman of her word.

    Being accountable is one of the most important traits of a follower. It is often what will turn a follower into a leader. Accountability makes people respect you and want to give you more responsibility. Accountability means your yes truly means yes and your no, means no. You have set boundaries and you live by them.

    Good Communicator - This was one of Nurse L's strongest traits. She spoke her in mind in a way that commanded attention. She was always respectful and honest. Leaders counted on Nurse L to speak up when she felt things were not going well. Her voice did not always make a change, but she was always heard. She exemplified the tenets of clear communication by being direct and assertive.

    She understood that communication was a two-way street. She never gossiped and knew when to speak in a group setting versus having a private conversation with the leader one on one. She understood that half of the battle with communication is knowing your audience and understanding how to communicate with them. Communication is now always about talking, and Nurse L knew this. She was a good listener and was able to reflect on what was said before answering. She listened to understand, not simply to respond.

    Followership is filled with opportunities to speak and to listen. Followers are keenly aware of the chances to speak and do so with intention. Followership means knowing when to listen and when to speak. Being a good follower requires us to choose our battles and words wisely.


    Strength - The strongest I ever saw Nurse L was when she was advocating for her patients and their parents. If she felt that decisions made were not in the best interest of the baby, she would stand up against any nurse or doctor to speak her mind. Again, always in a respectable manner, but always with the strength of a superhero. She was committed to what she believed in and would hold her own against anyone, while knowing her role.

    Followers know and respect their position. They know their role and stick to the course. Good followers know that blind obedience does not benefit anyone, but a follower that can step in and take the lead when needed, is the best follower any leader can ask for.


    The life of a follower is one of fulfillment and satisfaction, if you know and appreciate your role. Followership can progress to leadership. Good followers often make great leaders. Are you a good follower? Do you know a good follower? Do you have a dream of being a leader some day and want to master followership? Do you struggle with being a follower? I would love to hear your stories of followership and dreams of leadership.

    I leave you with one thought: In a world of people searching to be the next Kardashian or Beyonce, be a Nurse L. Be a follower who leaders and peers respect. Embrace the life of followership with passion and vision.
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    About melissa.mills1117

    Melissa Mills is a nurse who is on a journey of exploration and entrepreneurship. She is a healthcare writer who specializes in case management and leadership. When she is not in front of a computer, Melissa is busy with her husband, 3 kids, 2 dogs and a fat cat named Little Dude.

    Joined Feb '17; Posts: 20; Likes: 55.

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    2 Comments

  3. by   OlMaMa
    I'm going to answer as a person who has become a good follower. Most of my life I rebelled against authority which led me to have my own business so I could do things my way. I am now over it. 15 years in I put my business on hold and took a p/t job and am now a follower. I love going to work and having everything thrown at me and I do my best to fulfill my requirements and give gentle input where I see things that can be improved. I love contributing to a bigger vision and lifting everyone up. I'm currently doing prereqs so hoping I can bring this to healthcare.
    Last edit by OlMaMa on Nov 1 : Reason: So many errors :-O
  4. by   melissa.mills1117
    Quote from OlMaMa
    I'm going to answer as a person who has become a good follower. Most of my life I rebelled against authority which led me to have my own business so I could do things my way. I am now over it. 15 years in I put my business on hold and took a p/t job and am now a follower. I love going to work and having everything thrown at me and I do my best to fulfill my requirements and give gentle input where I see things that can be improved. I love contributing to a bigger vision and lifting everyone up. I'm currently doing prereqs so hoping I can bring this to healthcare.
    OlMaMa,
    I think that we go through different seasons of leadership and followership in our lives and careers. I am choosing followership in my primary job, so that I can be a leader in my personal life and business as a writer. It is a choice. It is a commitment to be a good follower.
    Best of luck to you with pre-req's and your journey!

    Melissa

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