Word Games: What Is the Opposite Of a Leader?


March 18, 2013

Put yourself to the challenge of a little word association game.  I want you to read each word then think of the opposite:

  • Teacher
  • Creative
  • Innovative
  • Strategic
  • Leader

I’m sure as you read through the list, you had a word jump to mind for each of them.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Teacher- Learner
  • Creative- Destructive
  • Innovative- Complacent
  • Strategic- Tactical
  • Leader- Follower

I notice is that if I spend some time really looking at the original list of words, I would not choose many of the “opposites” had I been given more time.  In fact, my list seems to have words that have a more negative connotation to them or at least a more passive tone.

Take the word “leader” for example.  My guess is that many people would automatically say “follower” is the opposite.  In our society though, the connotation of the word follower gives the sense that it is the less desirable position to hold.  However, no one is a leader all the time.  We each need to embrace being a follower so that we are stretched to learn.

When I looked up synonyms for the word follower, I found many that were positive such as supporter, enthusiast and fan.  Those are all positive.  Don’t they apply to leaders too?

Isn’t a leader a supporter?

Isn’t a leader an enthusiast?

Shouldn’t a leader be a fan of the people he is leading and guiding?

The way we use words in our business writing matters, yet we often go with a quick response and may not be setting the best tone or sending the most positive message.  The challenge is to stretch ourselves when we communicate.  The words we use to refer to an employee, a project or a proposal may determine the level of success you are having with your team or with an entire organization.  Are the words you use instilling confidence and trust?  Do they demonstrate transparency?

I’m looking at words in a new way.  Yes, I am a leader, but that also means that I am an enthusiastic supporter of the team I am guiding.  They are not followers, but supportive contributors.

Word game? Maybe, but I’ll take it.

Screen Shot 2019-12-01 at 17.20.39

About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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