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Leadership and Followership

We frequently here that we need better leadership. The self-aware leader usually agrees— “I need to be a better leader.” How about this thought? We need better followership. Have you challenged yourself – I need to be a better follower?Five key followership skills that come up again and again are motivation, courage, service, dedication, and a strong work ethic. “Many of the same qualities that we admire in leaders ... are the same qualities that we want in the very best followers," Fast Company reported. Their article on followership said, “Being a good follower doesn't mean always taking the back seat. Good followers can become good leaders, and it doesn't always take a promotion to do it. Leadership is fluid [today], the person who was a leader on the last project is a follower on the next, and vice versa. Hierarchy no longer rules the day."Followership is actually more important than leadership. Without followers, the brightest leaders would never make an impact. It is vital to understand how your spot on the team impacts the bottom line, find the nobility in a job well done, and be prepared to contribute in every way possible.Rob Asghar says, “There is a conundrum in leadership: Most of the people who naturally gravitate toward leadership roles don’t have the humility or decency you’d want in a leader. And most of the humble and decent people that we might want to see in leadership roles quickly feel chewed up by the tensions, the criticisms, the thanklessness of the job. They soon retreat to safety or they end up curled up in a ball in a corner office. And only their more ruthless counterparts are left to compete for supremacy. If we want to have any hope of changing this, we have to do a better job of building up the people who aren’t natural leaders but who have qualities that can serve our organizations and our communities.”Ashgar suggests five steps that you can take to nurture better leaders in your workplace and your everyday life, by being a more skilled and generous follower:Stop being a consumer, and start being a producer. Don't see yourself as an impatient judge of talent, only able to be satisfied by the very best. See yourself as a scout, producer and nurturer of talent that others might overlook. Your leadership involves giving some confidence to the quality talent that lacks that natural confidence.Listen and affirm. Listen attentively when a member of the staff speaks up at a meeting. Do your best to affirm her for expressing her opinion and weigh that opinion as generously and thoughtfully as possible.Stay. When someone else begins to speak, don’t see it as a chance to go get coffee or check out, working on something else. Your manner conveys so much. See yourself as a builder, with each head-nod and each moment of affirmation building them.Give generous but honest feedback. If you think a rookie did a good job, don’t be stingy with the feedback. Don’t refuse to correct their mistakes, just be encouraging about what they did well.See it as a dance. In social dance, one person leads, and one follows. This isn’t about superiority or dominance or submission. It’s just a practical issue of who initiates a movement, but it is always an interplay. The dancers help each other shine.No matter our roles, we must help one another to shine. A skilled follower helps an inexperienced leader to shine. As the leader grows in skill, he or she is then able to help the followers to shine. And as they all grow in experience and skill; the interplay grows more productive and life-affirming.As we have indicated, the flip side of leadership is followership. It stands to reason that if leadership is important to performance, followership must have something to do with it too. But curiously, followership gets only a small fraction of the airtime and applause that leadership does.Followership is a straightforward concept. It is the ability to take direction well, to get in line behind a program, to be part of a team and to deliver on what is expected of you. The label “excellent follower” can be a backhanded compliment. It is not a reputation you necessarily want if you are seeking a higher position, the fact is that everybody is both a leader and a follower, depending on the circumstances.Followership matters. Where followership is a failure, not much gets done and/or what does get done is not what was supposed to get done. Poor work ethic, bad morale, distraction from goals, unsatisfied customers, lost opportunities, high costs, organizational confusion and poor performance are not just the results of poor leadership, but poor followership as well.Good followers have good judgment. Followers must take direction, but they also have an underlying obligation to do so only when the direction is ethical and proper. Show enough good judgement as a follower and you usually end up getting a shot at being the leader.Good followers are good workers. They are diligent, motivated, committed, pay attention to detail and make the effort. There is no such thing as a bad worker who is a good follower.Good followers are competent. It is the obligation of the leader to assure that followers are competent. Sometimes things go wrong because the follower is not competent. When this happens, leaders should blame themselves, not the follower. A sign of poor leadership is blaming followers for not having skills they do not have.Good followers are honest. Respect and politeness are important, but it is not acceptable for followers to sit on their hands while a bad leader drives the bus over the cliff. Good leaders are glad to get constructive feedback from their team. Bad leaders do not welcome feedback and here followers have to tread carefully.Good followers have courage. It takes real courage to confront a leader about concerns with the leader’s agenda or worse, the leader himself or herself. Churchill said, “Courage is the foremost of the virtues, for upon it, all others depend”.Good followers have discretion. Talking about work matters inappropriately is at best unhelpful and more likely harmful. Discretion just means keeping your mouth shut.Good followers are loyal. Followers who are not loyal are inevitably a source of difficulty. They create problems between team members; they compromise the achievement of goals; they waste everybody’s time; they are a menace. Loyalty is not a synonym for lapdog. Rather, its essence is a strong allegiance and commitment to what the organization is trying to do.Followers should remember that their obligation is to the big picture, not a given leader at a given point in time. Good followers have their egos under control. They are team players in the fullest sense. They have good interpersonal skills. It is true that an organization is only as good as its leaders. It is also as good as its followers. We can all benefit from looking at both sides of the coin.

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