How to be a Great Follower
Welcome to the first issue of the James Bowles and
Associates newsletter! As I speak with
different people during my coaching encounters, a number of topics of interest
come up that I think would be useful to share with my colleagues. I have decided to share those thoughts in a
periodic newsletter. As usual for me, I
will try to keep these brief and leave you each month with some practical
advice. I hope you find this
useful. Your feedback is very welcome,
and if you want to forward to a friend or unsubscribe please visit the links at the end of the page.
The topic that I chose to start with is FOLLOWERSHIP. We are all inundated with
materials on leadership, everything from Zen to Peter Drucker to Sun-Tzu. However, we don't hear nearly as much about
followership. Followership is defined as
what you personally do to advance the goals and plans of you leader. Although followership may not generate as
much glory as leadership, good followers are the core of a healthy,
Followership is important for two reasons. First, good followers get the right things
done. They put aside distractions and
focus on executing challenging plans. In
the tough environment that we currently find ourselves in, there is no shortage
of distractions. Good followers
understand how they tie into greater plans, stay focused on doing the right
things, and get results amidst the chaos.
Second, there is personal benefit to being a good follower. Good followers are often chosen for key
assignments, requested to be on teams, and counted on to execute. People who show the characteristics of good
followership gain job security, and can become prime candidates for future
So how do you become a great follower? Research has shown that there are three
reasons that drive a person's decision to follow::
Companies generally hire intelligent, engaged people. If you develop your skills in followership by
forming a good relationship with your boss and truly understanding the plan,
there are usually opportunities to succeed.
Without these skills, too many people become the smart but
disenfranchised employee in the corner complaining about management (and who no
one wants to work with).
in the Message - You will follow if the plan that you are following makes sense
to you. You should see the message as
well thought out, well presented, logical, and you should understand the
benefits to you if you succeed. You
should not have any unresolved questions.
You should be able to articulate the message yourself to others who have
questions. You may not agree with everything
or you might think you have a better way, but you should understand everything
from the leader's perspective. For
example, most of us will tend to disregard a plan to double sales in a
declining market that has bad assumptions and no supporting facts. However, the same plan showing details of how
to get to the goal (new markets, new customers, increase sales staff, etc.)
will get more traction
in the Leader - You will follow a person who has displayed ethics and values
that you believe in, and has a track record of getting results. People want to put their fate in the hands of
leaders who have a history of "doing the right thing", always behaving with
honesty, integrity, and trust. You will
follow someone who is willing to listen to alternate ideas (even if they don't
accept them) and address questions and criticism of the plan. Plans set forth by a leader with a history of
dishonesty and mistrust will be looked upon with skepticism and caution. Plans set forth by a leader who has a track record
of trust and results will generally be given the benefit of the doubt.
- Fear does work to generate followers in the short term. However, it is only effective if you also
believe in the message and in the leader.
The best example of this is in the military under fire. Soldiers who understand the mission and
believe in their leader will continue to follow orders and look to their leader
for direction. Soldiers who don't will
revert to instinct, and chaos ensues.
The situation should honestly dictate the fear (we need to execute or we
will go out of business), not the leader (follow this or I will fire you). Leaders who fall back on fear as a motivator
usually have not done the work to generate belief in the message or belief in
themselves. Those leaders don't have
followers, they have short term compliance.
Here are some tips on becoming a better follower:
articulating your leaders' plan. Do you
understand it? Do you have gaps in your
knowledge? Do you believe that it can be
accomplished? Have all of your questions
been answered? If not, schedule a
meeting to seek understanding and ask questions. Use this meeting only to seek answers, not to
criticize or propose changes.
If you answered "yes" to the questions above
and you think you have a better idea, ask your leader whether he/she is
interested in a follow up session to hear your ideas. If they are not accepted, move on.
you trust your leader? If not, what has
happened to break that trust? Have you
done your part to raise that issue person to person? Trust issues can only be repaired when they
are known and given time to heal.
(These conversations can be tricky. You may want to consider practicing with a
colleague or confidant before approaching your leaders.)
To summarize, true followership happens when you believe in
the leader, believe in the message, look forward to the benefits of success,
and fear the consequences of failure.
Good followership drives good results for your business, and often
leads to leadership opportunities. As
we move into a tough year, we certainly need great leaders. But more importantly we need great followers
who are willing to put aside distraction and execute on challenging plans.