Followership – Why does everyone want to be a leader
“… the case for being a ‘good follower’ …“
During my recent “offline time” I’ve been thinking a great deal about leadership and realized that I haven’t seen or read many articles about being a good follower. This article will be the first in a potential series of articles discussing being a good follower, the need for good/great followers, and how being a good follower can benefit your career and life. Let’s start by exploring the case for being a “good follower”.
Everyone wants to be a “leader” – right? Looking at the available reference and advice media it certainly seems that way. There are over 57,000 books and even more articles focusing on leadership. “How to be a good follower” provides only a small number of references – many of which are focused on being specifically a good follower of a given religion.
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Don’t overlook the power of the “follower” dogs…
“… If you’re not the lead dog – the view never changes …”
Why is there such a gap between interest in leadership and followership? It could be that most of us are taught that the leader is special and has more worth. Have you ever heard the old adage “If you’re not the lead dog – the view never changes!”? It makes the leader sound important and gives a vivid image of the sphincter-focused scenery expected by the followers but does that analogy hold up? Even without considering that the “Musher” has the real control of the team, I don’t think that the dog-sled analogy does leader and follower relationships justice.
I firmly believe that regardless of a “leader” or “follower” label, what most people want is control of their lives (and most importantly their time). Many of the “leadership” reference materials give the impression that somehow becoming a leader will magically result in the person having more control over their condition. Does that impression hold up?
Quiz – Best Leaders?
“… How many … leaders follow/answer-to no-one? …”
Let’s pause a minute for a quiz. What are the best leaders that come to mind? How many of those leaders follow/answer-to no-one? I’m betting that you were easily able to answer the first question but are hard pressed to come up with even one answer to the second question. If you did come up with a leader that follows or answers to no-one – drop it in the comments on social media or shoot me your thoughts at email@example.com.
Listen to expert followers
Good leader? Great Leader?
“… Great leaders follow the lead of their most trusted followers …”
Good leaders follow other leaders. Great leaders follow the lead of their most trusted followers and ideas/proven practices from other leaders. Wait!?!? What?!? Leaders follow, followers? That can’t be right!
First point – leader accountability. In every leadership position I’ve held, there were always others to whom I was accountable. Owners/CEOs/Executives of corporations are accountable to a host of others including their customers, board of directors, stockholders, etc.
Speaking personally, the people I felt most accountable to were not those that I reported to but that reported to me. I always wanted to do my best to meet or exceed their needs if not their expectations. I also know that many of them had much more detailed day-to-day knowledge than I had and I relied on them to work with me collaboratively to address the company’s needs.
Lift up and embrace expertise and knowledge
Embracing and lifting up knowledge and expertise in yourself and your team
“… Embracing each individual’s knowledge and expertise and celebrating their contributions and success with the team was a key factor in their growth as well as company, team, and my personal success …”
That doesn’t mean that every suggestion/thought from team members was acted upon – it does mean that while I was responsible for the decisions and progress of the team, I trusted and leveraged the team’s knowledge and skill rather than, conceitedly, only relying on my own knowledge and those “up the chain”.
I found that many of my staff members didn’t aspire to take on a formal “leadership” role; however, that didn’t make them any less interested in being an important part of the team. Embracing each individual’s knowledge and expertise and celebrating their contributions and success with the team was a key factor in their growth as well as company, team, and my personal success.
In looking back through my career path I hope that more decided to follow me because of that approach than simply because I hired them or they became part of my team as part of a reorganization.
Influence/Leaders require followers – not just on Social Media
Following and Social Media
“… You have impact on others every-day …”
To look at this from a different direction, you may have found this article through social media which, for good or bad, has adopted “following” as a key to the success of accounts. Those that have many followers have greater, perceived, influence and may be rewarded based on their followership.
I and most, if not all, of you follow others on social media to get insights and share thoughts (speaking of which – if you’re not following me or Mindring Consulting on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram this is a great opportunity to get connected to see the latest posts or get the career coaching that can help you make a breakthrough in your career). Outside social media, you also likely have family, colleagues, and/or friends that reach out to you for help.
The power of influencers/leaders comes from their followers. You have impact on others every-day – sometimes as a leader; other times as a follower. How are you responding in each situation? Is there room for growth?
Since we are likely to spend more of our lives as “followers” than as “leaders” why don’t we spend more time thinking about how to be good followers? Let me know your thoughts in the comments on any of the social media platforms. If there’s enough interest in the topic I plan to create additional articles covering the characteristics of being a good follower and others based on your questions and/or interests.
As your career coach, I can be the confidential, objective sounding board to help you explore and develop this and other skills in a safe, non-judgmental space. I’m here to help you when you are ready – reach out to me through this link and I’ll be glad to discuss options with you.
What do you think about this topic? What do you think makes a “good/great follower”? What would you like future articles to cover on the topic of followership and being a good follower?
I’d love to get your thoughts and feedback on this and other blog posts. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram. And sign up for my newsletter below to be notified about upcoming articles and events from Mindring Consulting!
Resources and Attributions
- Article – In Praise of Followers – HBR.org – In Praise of Followers (hbr.org)
- Article – HBR.org – Research: To Be a Good Leader, Start By Being a Good Follower (hbr.org)
- Article – How Being a Good Follower Can Make You a Better Leader – LinkedIn – (4) How Being a Good Follower Can Make You a Better Leader | LinkedIn
- Videos – See section below newsletter
- Licensed Images from Envanto