John Maxwell originated the phrase, “Everything rises and falls on leadership” in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Often when I go to ministry conferences and I hear leaders speak, this becomes their favorite quote. It appears as a sort of speech pause for them if they forget anything to say. I do not blame them because it is a powerful quote. However, I contend that those who use it should consider the rest of leadership because they often misapply the quote. Allow me to explain.
The fact is there are some people who are stubborn and refuse to follow. This should be to no fault of the leader and too many times leaders bear unjust punishment because no one was willing to follow. They have great leadership abilities, but either the situation is a mismatch or because of stubborn followers the leaders are unfairly blamed. Therefore, by saying that, “EVERYTHING rises and falls on leadership” fails to mention the other half of the leadership equation, which is followership.
In his book, Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples, Michael Mitchell writes, “There is no leadership without someone following.” His intention is not to callout poor leadership, but to reform negative followers. This is why he further says, “Followership is a commitment to change, a willingness to be transformed into the image, style, and behavior of the leader…a leader must learn to be a follower.” This is Mitchell’s view, but it was also the view of Christ.
In Mark 1:17 Jesus calls Peter and Andrew with the following phrase, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Christ’s first words to His first disciples were to “follow.” He implied that there was a responsibility on them that if they did follow Christ He would transform them. They would no longer be fishermen, but “become fishers of men.” Christ as the leader made the call to them for leadership, but they had to submit and follow. It was a two-part equation that resulted in great success because Peter helped found the early Christian church.
So, the next time you reflect on the phrase, “Everything rises and falls on leadership,” remember that it does not. It does mean that leaders do share the bulk of the burden in leadership. However, it also means that you as an individual have a duty to follow your leaders because their success and yours depends on it. Should you find yourself unable to follow a particular leader than for the productivity of the organization and yourself, you should consider leaving. You could be the catalyst for change, which would be a benefit to you, the organization, and even the leader. No matter what you decide let me encourage you to do so prayerfully.
In the meantime, remember, “Most things rise and fall on leadership, not everything. The rest is dependent on how you follow.”