Everyone wants to be the leader and no one wants to be a follower, right?
It certainly would seeem that way. To date much of the focus of research and academia has been on the influence leaders have on their organisations and their followers, but what about followers and the influence they have on their organisations and their leaders?
Enter any bookshop, search amongst the self-help books on the shelves and you will find a plethora of books on Leadership and improving your competence as a leader. But where are the books on followership and how to enhance your followership skills?
This one sided approach to developing leaders and the denial of followership development has undermined a significant force for achievement and triumph in any organisation.
Imagine a body builder only developing the left side of his/her body; it simply does not make sense. So why then do we persist in investing so much in developing only one side of our team, leaving the rest to virtually fend for themselves in their quest for self-improvement?
In recognising the followers in our organisations and their potential we can gain greater depth and resiliency of our teams and in their achievement of organisational goals and objectives.
Organisational commitment to individual development that empowers and inspires leads to increased loyalty and commitment. A well supported, loyal and committed team that leads to an organisation to be reckoned with
In a leadership role personal experience has highlighted the perils of the ‘yes’ man, that employee who will tell you just what they think you want to hear, not what it actually is. Not only does this have a disastrous effect on outcomes but it can also amplify the feeling of isolation for a leader, especially when enacting a decision only to come to the stark realisation that your decision was based on misinformed advice.
Leadership does not have to be a ‘one horse race’. In failing to recognise and develop our followers we make it all so much harder for ourselves. With direct report staff we have a wealth of opportunities to delegate and spread the responsibility for true, effective change and risk taking in our organisations. The quality of the skills of those staff will determine the quality of their outputs and enhance the magnitude of achievement in our organisations.
Succession planning is often a very real issue for dynamic and evolving organisations. When change comes and the person ‘at the top’ leaves, organisations are vulnerable, their strategic and operational path is disrupted and they fail to reap the cumulative rewards. A follower well supported, empowered and immersed in the organisational culture can be the answer to providing a seamless transition between leaders and providing them with taking that crucial step up.
Simple - remove your leader centric glasses! See and acknowledging the vital role of the follower and how it will, with support and development, enhance what we are already achieving as organisations and as leaders.
An effective follower opens up for the leader and their organisation a world of opportunities:
- A priceless ally for a leader, one who understands the importance of telling it boldly how it is. Ultimately this will improve the effectiveness and scope of strategies and decisions.
- A shared responsibility for enacting change – the point at the top of the organisational tree does not have to be so sharp! Delegating tasks to competent others amplifies the magnitude and guarantee of success.
- Another string to your succession planning bow. Maintaining the momentum of achievement and stability is a concern for any organisation, especially when changing a leader. Easing in a suitable replacement will be more efficient and effective if that person understands the organisation, its strategic directions and importantly its values and culture.
The best outcomes will accrue if we view a focus on followership as more integrated with leadership, t’s not about ‘us and them’ but about a working partnership Elevating the role of the follower will in essence expand our view of leadership, perhaps one of life’s many paradoxes, sometimes the more you give away the more you receive back.
In developing followers, we are also developing our leaders-in-waiting, resulting in enhanced succession planning within organisations.
So too is the opportunity of managing the inherent risks of organisations who may have only one person envisioning, setting and directing the goals and objectives of the organisation. Deepening the level of commitment towards these outcomes by incorporating followers in these fundamentally strategic tasks will greatly improve the prospects and the possibility for organisational success.
Leaders are generally individualistic and success oriented, the concept of being a follower and part of the crowd for them, just doesn't rate. Followership is just not an attractive proposition leadership is where it is at! Thinking about the bigger picture is important and that includes across the organisation in terms of structurally but also across time. We all can not all be the leaders of the day. Having the courage to develop your followers will lead to better equipped and suitably prepared leaders of the future.
Some leaders will be threatened by the very thought of having a subordinate who is prepared to stand up to them, highlighting where the plans for the organisation may be going awry or even making contributions even when all is going well. Some leaders do not take kindly to contradictory and opposing opinions or find sharing the limelight difficult. Adopting this more inclusive approach to leadership with followership would certainly be a major deterrent to embracing and elevating the role of the follower for these leaders.
For followers too there are risks in being prepared to stand head and shoulders above the crowd. Putting forward an honest opinion which might be unpopular within the team can be a very uncomfortable and maybe even a career limiting proposition. Integrity of action is vital and perhaps it is akin to the roles of the supporting actor and the lead actor, ensuring the veracity of each role is upheld is vital for the overall success of all, individuals and organisations.
For organisations there is that old chestnut – cost! Developing one leader as opposed to say, 4 followers is considered a cost effective approach to organisational development. However with the right resources, time and approach much of this development could be undertaken by the leaders themselves with some judicious exposure for followers to the same opportunities that they as leaders have experienced.
It is said ‘attitude is everything’ and this must be our first step.
Both leaders and followers alike need to change their mindset around the field of followership and leadership. Simply being prepared to alter your perspective of a concept can free up a new way of thinking about the status quo, thereby unlocking creativity and those innovative, fresh new ideas.
Whilst the research into and the writing around the field of followership may be described as wanting, there are already existing some excellent resources recently available. From these can be drawn the foundation of a learning and development programme designed to advance the role, knowledge and skills of the follower. Much as programmes and materials have been developed for building the competence of leaders, so too similar programmes need to be developed for followers.
The next step and crucial step is to engage in more research and debate on the field of followership and its integration with leadership, and soon! Hand-in-hand with the proposed learning and development programmes for followers is the opportunity for the long overdue empirical research and robust academic debate.
Each of these steps outlined above will function in a way to inform and engender the development of the other steps. So why wait let’s get started.
E hara taku toa I te toa taku tahi – I come not from my own strengths but from the strengths of many.
This Māori proverb sums up the many people, too numerous to mention, who deserve to be credited for this work that I respectfully present to you. I trust that you all recognise your role and the esteem in which you are held.