Some people excel within a framework of parameters set up for them to follow. Conversely, some people thrive more naturally at directing the schedules and frameworks within which a team works. Natural followers may be more comfortable with bringing another’s vision to life while natural leaders may be more inclined to invent the vision that inspires others. Every person within an organization, however, may be a bit of both.

Natural Followers

People are born as followers by default, suggests psychology professor Mark van Vugt in his April 2012 “Psychology Today” blog article entitled “Natural Born Followers.” From infancy, a person is a follower starting with mimicking a mother’s facial expressions and following her gaze to where she looks. In business, traits such as being coachable, taking initiative and achieving goals can be developed from experience at being an effective follower, suggests August Turak in a July 2012 “Forbes” article. Listening and learning are also part of being a natural follower. Followers can go too far, however, if they’re not independent enough to resist a leader who takes their organization in a wrong direction or abuses their loyalty and trust.

Natural Leaders

A person shows the first signs of leadership as a toddler by pointing at objects to direct a mother’s gaze, suggests van Vugt. Our natural leadership can be developed throughout our lives as we’re rewarded for the initiatives we take. Defining goals, setting standards, managing self and motivating others are characteristics of a natural leader at work. Leaders are most effective when articulating a clear vision that inspires followers to want to participate, according to Ben Pimentel in a 2007 report for Stanford Graduate School of Business entitled “Traits that Define Leadership.” Leaders can go too far, however, by not delegating enough to others when it comes to team tasks or claiming too much credit for team results.

Interchangeable Roles

Followers are leaders of their own jobs even when their jobs seem small, according to Mick Myatt in his February 2013 “Forbes” article entitled “The Case for Ubiquitous Leadership.” Followers may be self-motivated and self-directed, taking the leadership role and influencing others throughout each day within the parameters set by managers or team members. Conversely, following employees can strengthen a manager’s skill as an organizational leader. Leaders fall back on the follower role throughout each day by responding to new client demands or assisting employees and learning from their insights. For example, learning an improvement to a process that an innovative employee has discovered may help you see a way to cut company costs while improving efficiency.

Areas of Conflict

Conflicts arise when individuals dig their heals into their statuses as a leader or follower instead of being adaptable enough to move between roles as necessary to create successful team results. Followers and leaders also clash when respect toward each other’s positions or statuses within the company diminishes, and they begin ignoring or devaluing the power and contributions of the other.