The leader vs. the follower ... who is more important? If your company isn't valuing each equally, you could be missing out on big opportunities.

Author:Pally, Ada

SUCCESSFUL COMPANIES ALL HAVE one thing in common: They strategically and effectively optimize their workforce.

Some of us have had the opportunity to work in some of these environments, and a lot of us have seen the negative effects of poor leadership, poor execution, and poorly managed teams. I have seen the extremes of both several times over, and one consistent issue I've observed is that far too often, there is only one career path available to an individual: They can either get paid more and become a leader or remain at a lower pay rate and be a follower.

I agree that this path works well in a lot of scenarios, but more often I have seen talented individuals fail because they aren't "management material." Even more often, I have experienced terrible leadership by individuals who were placed in a position of power simply because they put in the time, or were strong performers and were rushed into management for a pay raise.

The fact is, not all executors are going to be good leaders. The most successful companies will facilitate a career path that recognizes both individual contributors and those who are better leaders than followers.


There are two core structures of an organization: those who lead, and those who execute. The first group is there to organize, problem-solve, establish rigor in process, and maintain order. The second group is there to get things done, to produce, and to create an end result. These two roles are remarkably different, yet the lines are blurred when creating career paths and establishing value.

The majority of organizations create a hierarchy between these components where leadership is the more valuable role, and execution is the less valuable role. In this scenario, for an employee to succeed, they must eventually "graduate" from being an executor to being a leader, when in reality both are equally necessary components.

Not all executors who excel at their jobs should become leaders. The result is organizations that are upside down when it comes to the hierarchy of needs for their companies and encouraging, if not requiring, individual contributors to step away from the value they create in hopes that they are able to expand that knowledge to others as leaders.

I'd like to make the case that both roles provide essential business functions, and should thus be compensated and valued similarly.


The executor, or individual contributor, is a critical component of any organization. Individuals in these roles are the engine and the momentum behind any company. Following the 80/20 rule, this role accounts for 80 percent of the workforce. It is these individuals who best understand...

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