Followership – So you want to be a great follower?
“… leaders are nothing without people working with them to achieve the goal and vision …“
Followership – In the last article I discussed why being a good follower matter. We all spend a significant portion of our careers (and lives) following leaders. In the end, leaders are nothing without people working with them to achieve the goal and vision. So, what makes a great follower? Let’s explore 3 crucial traits.
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Describing a good/great follower
“… there seems to be a reluctance to celebrate being a follower …”
When you think of being a follower what comes to mind? Are your thoughts positive – envisioning working collaboratively with a team? Are your thoughts more negative – visualizing you and others being led around with a collar and a leash?
As I touched on in the previous article on Followership, there seems to be an unspoken stigma against being a follower. Everyone wants to be the leader – not a “lowly” follower. Even in a Forbes article on the topic, there seems to be a reluctance to celebrate being a follower while stating in one of the headlines that “You’re not following, you’re a leader in training.”
What words would you use to describe as important to following a good or great leader? Do words like “trust”, “loyalty”, “dependable”, “consistent”, and “candid” make your list? What about “blind”, “weak”, “easily manipulated”, or “silent”?
I believe that most people would use the first list in describing being a good follower but the second list may creep into thoughts dampening the view of being a follower.
What do good/great ‘leaders’ want in a ‘follower’?
“… [as a] leader what do you expect from your ‘best’ followers …”
You want to be a “leader” not a “lowly follower”? So, when you’re a leader what do you expect from your “best” followers? Do you want people to do everything you say, without question, without their feedback? Do you expect one-sided trust where the follower is completely dependent on you? How about communication? Will you expect your followers to tell you what you want to hear, regardless of the truth? Will you only provide enough information to your followers that they can achieve your next task rather than sharing the end-goal vision?
How do you feel about the leader with those qualities? If you’ve ever worked for someone with some or all of those attributes I bet you didn’t feel very valued. I doubt that “trust”, “loyalty”, “candid”, and “dependability” were in short supply.
Do the “followers” under that “leader” seem to be more human or robotic? As an aside, the topic of AI (artificial intelligence) and its potential to reduce or eliminate some jobs is being discussed throughout news and social media channels. Which follower do you think is more easily replaced – the one that follows blindly, robotically or the one that works independently, provides values with their thoughts/skills, and works collaboratively with the leader?
In former leadership roles I always valued people I could collaborate with – not as leader-follower but as team-member, team-member. Yes, as leader, I had the responsibility for delivering as well as for the performance of my team and finding a “perfect” solution, approach, schedule, etc. that would work for everyone was not really practical.
I valued team members that had the emotional intelligence and confidence to interject their thoughts to improve the plans and trust me enough that, if their suggestions could not be incorporated or only partially incorporated, they would trust my judgement without having to know every detail behind the decision.
My expectations were that a solution that we all worked on would be better than something I, or my management, prescribed. To achieve the company goals I wanted, no, I needed, team members that could think for themselves, work independently, had great judgement, etc. The most successful, followers (team members) exhibited 3 key qualities: 1. Self Awareness, 2. Self-Assessment, and 3. Self-Discipline.
Know yourself first…
“… Seek first to understand, then to be understood …”
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is a quote by Stephen Covey that had a great impact on me early in my career. Early in my development I spent a lot of time and energy trying to get others to understand my thoughts and perspectives – often with disappointing results. It wasn’t until I started objectively looking at why outcomes and objectives were important to me that I could start relating and conveying their importance to others.
Knowing what you value and knowing your personal strengths and weaknesses are foundational to so many career and life decisions. As a follower self-awareness can help you assess whether a plan, program, etc. aligns with your values and strengths/weaknesses.
For example, let’s say your “leader” asks you to make a presentation at an upcoming meeting. As a strong follower, you may share that you appreciate the opportunity and that, while you’re an expert on the subject, you’re concerned and nervous about speaking in front of a large crowd. Your leader takes this into consideration and assures you that they will work with you to provide the support you need and give you the confidence to take on the assignment.
Without some self-awareness, you might turn down the opportunity out of fear or may not be able to communicate your reluctance to your leader. Worse yet, you might feel pressured into performing the presentation without support, make mistakes, and be even less confident if another opportunity presents itself.
Being self-aware will also help you to understand others better. As you go through what is important to you, you may start to think about how others see the same situation differently. This thought process will help you be more empathetic to others as they reach out to you to understand their perspective.
To work towards self-awareness you’ll want to start by documenting your values and strengths/weaknesses as a baseline. Getting this information written down will help solidify your understanding and help future evaluations.
“… Through self-assessment you can ensure that your self-awareness is up-to-date …”
Once you have some self-awareness, that’s the end of the process – right? Of course not. Continual growth requires periodic, objective, self-assessment. As you grow and mature what you value can change. You may have things you see as weaknesses today that, through time and effort, become strengths. Through self-assessment you can ensure that your self-awareness is up-to-date.
There are a few key points to an effective self-assessment:
First, you need to know your values, strengths/weaknesses, and other criteria for the assessment. You can start with the values and strengths/weaknesses you documented during your self-assessment journey.
From a career planning perspective, if you have a “master resume” that serves as a template to create resumes used when posting for job positions, this master resume is a great place to incorporate self-awareness knowledge and is a great tool for self-assessment exercises. While you won’t publish these details to prospective employers it can help your overall career and personal development.
Next, you’ll determine how often to review the information you’ve documented. I recommend having some key information (like your core values) available as a reference and a more detailed document for periodic assessments.
From a career perspective, I recommend reviewing your personal and professional goals at least once per quarter. The exercise doesn’t need to be time consuming (an hour or so commitment) and gives you an opportunity to update your master resume with details that can be helpful in the future. If you have a formal performance appraisal process – these details can be particularly valuable for the annual self-assessment.
Finally, set a time and commit to performing your own self-assessment. You’ll want to look back at the period since your last assessment and objectively evaluate whether you have met your objectives. This honest evaluation will help you set or update goals you can achieve moving forward.
Discipline translates to behavior
“… Self-discipline is putting into practice the self-awareness you’ve developed…”
Self-awareness and self-assessment mean nothing without the discipline driving your behaviors. Intent means nothing if it is not practically demonstrated through behaviors. Self-discipline is putting into practice the self-awareness you’ve developed.
Feeling that you’re being “taken advantage of” by working long hours or weekends? Is that because your leader has told you that your job depends on working beyond your stated contract or is it something you “feel you have to do”?
Throughout my life I have found that people will most often allow you to be your own worst enemy. What I mean is that if you’re willing to compromise your beliefs and objectives for their benefit – most people will allow you maximum space to do that regardless of whether it’s harmful to you.
You are your own, best, advocate. Use your understanding of your values, principles, goals to effectively communicate with your leader. To be clear, this doesn’t always mean that your beliefs and values will completely align with others around you. The most healthy compromises are those that are discussed in the open and that are not assumed.
Throughout my career, I appreciated team members that were confident and trusting enough to discuss their perspectives with me, could openly work through concerns, and could move forward exhibiting positive behaviors to accomplish the goals.
What can you expect from demonstrating self-awareness, self-assessment, and self-discipline? In the short term you may find that you have more confidence in the decisions you’re making and a greater comfort for progress.
Longer-term you can expect better empathy and communication with others, building healthy trust relationships, consistency and dependable outcomes from yourself and others around you, loyalty with team members, and more.
Wait – what do those characteristics describe? To me they describe someone I want to work with; perhaps, even someone I would want to work for. Well look at that – by becoming a better follower you just set yourself up to be a more effective leader.
Want to become a better follower? Leader?
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What do you think about this topic? Do you think there are other key skills in becoming a great follower? What do you think about being a good follower as foundational to being a good leader?
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Resources and Attributions
- Article – What is Followership? 14 Qualities of Good Followers – Indeed.com – What Is Followership? 14 Qualities of Good Followers | Indeed.com
- Article – To be a Great Leader, Learn How To Be A Great Follower: The Four Rules Of Following – Forbes.com – To Be A Great Leader, Learn How To Be A Great Follower: The Four Rules Of Following (forbes.com)
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