Does a leader not also follow?

What or whom does a leader follow? An interesting question posed after reading the following quote from former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. “I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?”

Its easy to think of this as a no-brainer of a quote coming from an elected official, but when you break it down to its core points, this is an immensely complicated comment with far-ranging impact. I was completely floored after reading this famous quote about leadership and wanted to share with you my thoughts.

Let’s begin with the first sentence.”I must follow the people.”

You have to follow the people, no matter what. But this definitive point of following leads us to the next word: Follow. In this context, to follow means to observe, and monitor the behaviors and actions of others in order to comply or address that which has been seen. So in summary, you have to observe and monitor the people in which you are associated with.

Now for the second line: “Am I not their leader?”

This poignant rhetorical question begs that the previous sentence’s validity be questioned. Simply stating the earlier sentence as “A leader must follow the people.” would have sufficed. But he made this statement applicable across an entire group of people. This questioning statement also creates a focus on all of us being leaders. It is all our duties to follow, monitor and understand those who are around us. Supporting the famous point that we have two ears and two eyes but only one mouth, which means we are to listen and watch twice as much as we speak. Disraeli’s quote in its entirety supports the Hobbesian Leviathan theory that the people make up the entirety of government and that our actions create the change needed from within all people not just the leader.

In conclusion, this quote is not applicable only to leaders, but to all of us. We are all leaders, and it is our duty to monitor and observe those around us and that leadership is all of our duties. While this quote was made almost two centuries ago, I find it completely relevant and applicable today.

How have you seen this quote at work in your life? How have you seen the points of this quote NOT followed?

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That’s an awesome quote. Just the way it is asked, frames the discussion much differently than normal. One challenge for the leader is to get some idea/clarity on what the team wants/needs (and often these wants/needs aren’t vocalized)

Eric Melton

While I can see the subtleties you point out, and understand the aspects of servant-leadership, I generally disagree with the quote.

A politician must certainly follow the people, but a leader must influence others to think differently and follow him/her.

Andreas D. Addison

@Eric I appreciate your points about the quote. There are other duties of a leader beyond following, however a leader cannot act singularly without some understanding of that which will be accepted or approved. If you push something that an agency or organization is not ready to accept you will get push back and impact morale. There are examples of a leaders influencing others to follow along the leader, they have been successful and failed. I feel that to your point, it is a skillful leader who is able to tell the correct time to influence others it is time to do something. I know that I have first hand had ideas mentioned by me take three times before leadership has acted upon them.

Great point. There is more to leadership than simply following.