I recently served on an all-volunteer team where the leadership was a
two person unit. I became very aware of
the difference between well-functioning leadership and less than unified leadership. I found myself thinking a lot about what the
team’s leadership should have done, could have done, etc. With every critical
thought I was pointing one finger at the leadership and three at myself; thus,
the reason for this article on followership.
During the orientation, we were repeatedly told to keep the
F-word foremost in our minds – be Flexible
at all times. As I evaluated the time
with this team, I became acutely aware of my underperformance in the area of
followership and flexibility.
Followership is often not mentioned as a skill one
should develop. It usually appears as a "non-word"
when documents are spellchecked on the computer. It’s not a new concept; just
one that is often overlooked, defined differently or just forgotten.
Leadership and followership are
intertwined: Leaders must have followers; and followers must have leaders. How
do you fit in as a follower?
Followership can be defined
as the willingness to cooperate in working towards the accomplishment of the
group mission, to demonstrate a high degree of teamwork and to build cohesion
among the group. Sounds pretty similar to leadership, doesn't it?
Team efforts are valued
highly in today's workforce and such efforts require active followers. Effective
followership is an excellent building block to effective leadership. While
there are numerous sources to which one can turn to find helpful information on
effective leadership, fewer such sources exist on guiding one to be an
effective follower, though there are some. The
Power of Followership by Robert E. Kelley lists the following attributes as
defining exemplary followership.
- Think for themselves
above and beyond the job
the team and the leader
on the goal
an exceptional job on critical path activities related to the goal
initiative on increasing their value to the organization
they add value by being who they are, their experiences and ideals
- Structure their daily work and
- See clearly how their job
relates to the enterprise
themselves on the critical path toward accomplishment
- Make sure the tasks they are to
perform are on the critical path
their progress daily or weekly
their scope of critical path activities
sessions are a good time to openly discuss the above attributes with your
As a follower, it is often easy to criticize the tactics,
styles or ideas of a leader. Sometimes
it helps to critically evaluate our own views toward leadership, the organization
and ourselves as followers in order to get a better understanding of the
situation. Through this we can learn how
to create change in ourselves, how to deal with difficulties and how to become
more productive and effective followers. We might also learn that being a leader is not
as easy as it may sometimes appear! Take
some time to ask yourself the following questions and don't be alarmed if some
of them are a bit difficult to answer.
- Am I truly pursuing the mission and goals of the group while balancing
- What ideas, purpose or values do I share with the
leader? The group?
- Should I be taking more initiative?
I uphold my commitments?
I answer questions honestly?
I transparent and share with the leader(s) and team my challenges,
obstacles and needs to achieve my larger goals?
- Do I take accountability for my actions or blame others?
- What particular pressures and challenges does the
- If I and/or the group provided more support to the
leader, might it improve his/her performance and profitability for the
- The leader must have some skills, qualities and
abilities that helped get his/her into this position of leadership. What
are they? How can I help draw these out? How can I help change the environment
so these skills and abilities can be demonstrated?
changing ourselves is usually not an easy task, most would agree it is easier
than changing others. If you are experiencing frustrations or misunderstandings
with your organization’s leader(s) or team, take a step back and view the
situation from the outside. Instead of
asking how you can get the leader out of his/her position, ask what you can do
to help his/her performance.
if you are perfectly satisfied with your leadership, it is necessary for you, just
as it is for a leader, to evaluate your role as a follower/collaborator/group
member to determine if you are performing in this role at the highest level
possible. Remember, effective leadership requires effective followership. Do your best to make your group the best it