What's wrong with being a good follower?
By Doris Lowell
If it were not for good followers there would be no good leaders. As Aristotle once said, “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.”
We are a society that values leadership and is uncomfortable with followership, though the subjects are inseparable. We do not give the same respect and honour to followers as we do leaders. In addition, we do not train people to become strong followers who can skilfully support leaders, yet stand up to them when their actions or policies are detrimental and need rethinking.
The amount of literature aimed at leaders or leadership is overwhelming while in contrast finding information on followers or followership is limited. A search on Yahoo.com turns up 155,000,000 hits on leadership while followership yields 90,400 hits. Google.ca brings in a whopping 902,000,000 hits on leadership with a meager 195,000 on followership.
In his book ‘The Power of Followership’, Robert Kelley writes that research shows leadership only contributes about 20% to the success or failure of an organization. If followers contribute 80% to their organization’s effectiveness, it is vital that we understand how to maximize the quality of followership. Kelly defines an effective follower “As someone who pursues a course of action in common with a leader to achieve an organizational goal". Effective followers make an active decision to contribute towards the achievement of the goal and demonstrate enthusiasm, intelligence, self-reliance and the ability to work with others in pursuit of the goal. Effective followers recognize the authority of the leader and limitations this imposes on their own actions, consider all issues on their merits, make their own decisions, hold their own values, speak their minds and hold themselves accountable for the consequences of their actions.”
Stressing the importance of followership to leadership is not intended to downplay the significance of the leader. Rather the objective is to increase the profile of the follower and his/her interactions with the leader to the position where the contributions of both the follower and the leader are seen as integral to team success.
Tips on being a good follower
- Be reliable loyal and trustworthy
- Support the team and leader
- Keep the team and leader informed
- If you disagree with the leader defend your position (in an appropriate setting)
- Do not follow blindly or agree to unethical situations
- Respect the opinions of your peers and leaders
- Offer encouragement
- Believe in yourself and the leader
- Be competent and credible in what you do
- Set a positive example for others to emulate
- Never discredit yourself, your team or your leader always help the team and leader look their best.
Remember behind every great leader is a group of great followers. So start focusing on being a great follower and if you so choose, your turn to lead will follow.