A Leader Among Followers…
Creating Dynamic Followers As A Prerequisite for Leading
By Laura Rose
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower
We hear that for an effective organization to smoothly evolve and develop, there should only be one leader and many followers. And we continuously applaud, train and promote leadership positions. The reality is that the majority of most organizations are followers. Since an effective follower is critical to an organization and its ability to accomplish a mission, should there be some discussion in what makes an effective follower?
Empowering Dynamic Followers
It would stand to reason that without effective followers a leader cannot lead.
Are there any redeeming qualities to being an effective follower?
What are the valued attributes of a follower?
Is there such a thing as a leader among followers?
What would an effective follower do to “lead by example”?
Obviously, every great leader requires great followers. Obviously there are attributes in making an effective follower. Not so obvious is that every great leader is also a great follower. We fulfill both roles simultaneously. The attributes of a great leader is much the same as an effective follower. Therefore, rather than encouraging leaders to mentor followers to “follow me” (as an imitation), leaders may mentor to specific and objective abilities and traits to create dynamic teams and subordinates. These dynamic follower attributes form a foundation from which follower initiative can grow to leader initiative more naturally. Organizations can identify their effective follower competencies to help leaders focus their mentoring efforts. This approach encourages followers to develop fully based on their personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and situational factors.
The Importance of Vision
Leadership attributes are the inner or personal qualities. These attributes include a large array of characteristics such as values, character, motives, habits, traits, competencies, style, behaviors, and skills. Leadership is the process of directing the behavior of others toward the accomplishment of some common objectives. The most effective way to do this is to demonstrate how his/her vision is exactly what the stakeholders, clients, and organizational teams already desire. Once the vision is truly shared and in common, the actions will be “inspired” and no additional motivation will be required.
The most influential leader is one who attracts instead of asserts. Since everyone is already in harmony and wants the same thing, teams are inspired from within to accomplish the harmonious and co-creative vision. Leadership and followships will naturally rotate, combine, interchange and interact at the most appropriate times that benefit all. Therefore, it stands to reason that an effective leader’s most important challenge is to clearly articulate and visualize his vision and why it’s important to him and his organization. The details (the how, when, where) will follow. An effective leader understands that the details will constantly change, evolve and develop. But the driving mission or vision, like the Lighthouse, needs to stay constant.
A Lighthouse stays constant, shines it’s beacon and attracts the various ships independent of external forces such as the weather or where the ships are departing from.
The leader constantly, consistently and concisely conveys his/her vision, in various ways that attract the right combinations of collaborators and co-creators Then he/she immediately focuses on mentoring dynamic teams and subordinates toward his vision.
Effective followers realize their importance to an organization and its ability to accomplish a mission. Those who are successful in followership positions have a positive self-regard. Those individuals who possess it are good at their jobs. They enjoy their work. It satisfies their basic needs and motives. They feel they’ve made a good choice of careers. Successful followers also welcome a leader who possesses and projects a clear sense of priority and strong advocacy for high expectations. The relationship an effective follower has with the leader is also an important aspect of interpersonal intelligence.
Some common attributes of an effective follower from “The Art of Followership” by Stephen L. Kleinsmith, Sheri Everts-Rogers
- Seldom burden your leader with your professional disappointments. You are to bring relief to his or her leadership responsibilities; don’t add luggage for him or her to carry.
- When the leader is getting into a pinch, sometimes taking ownership of the matter will allow the leader the reflection time needed to redirect the discussion. Be sensitive to the leader’s reactions when you do this.
- Be pro-active with your thoughts. Look for an alternative solution when the situation for the leader takes an unexpected and unwelcome turn. With time often being a commodity in short supply in a crisis, your pro-active way of looking ahead may make the winning difference.
- If there is a need (as made obvious by the leader) to provide support to a person or program in the organization, but without your understanding why, give the support first, then ask why. Publicly second guessing the boss gives a negative impression to those around him or her. The boss doesn’t need good followers when things are easy. The leader needs good followers when the going gets tough. If you feel the decision was a poor one, then work with the leader behind the scenes to map out a better way.
Emancipating and elevating the role of followship is the quickest way to success.
Therefore, a leader with foresight would focus on creating an environment of effective followers; an environment in which the roles of leaders and followers are interchanged and interactive. Since we naturally fulfill both roles simultaneously and inherently, it would be to our advantage to exploit and make the most of that nature within us.
Dynamic followership: the prerequisite for effective leadership
Air & Space Power Journal, Winter, 2004 by Sharon M. Latour, Vicki J. Rast
The Art of Followership – educators’ following of leadership in school administration
School Administrator, Sept, 2000 by Stephen L. Kleinsmith, Sheri Everts-Rogers
Followership: a Practical Guide to Aligning Leaders and Followers, by Tom Atchison, Health Administration Pr; 1 edition (November 2003)
About The Author
Laura Rose has been in the software and testing industry for over 20 years. She’s worked with such companies as IBM, Eriksson, Staples, Fidelity Investments and Sogeti in various client advocacy and project management roles. The techniques she uses in her business coaching and client advocacy work saved these companies both time and money, which resulted in on-time, quality product delivery with
higher client satisfaction. Laura authors many articles and workshops on time management and strategic scheduling. She is also the founder of the electronic magazine the Rose Garden: the Art of Becoming. Blog: http://thelaurarose.blogspot.com/