Leadership and Followership

Many of people I work with are always talking about leadership and how everyone needs to be a good leader, an engaged leader, a self-leader. OK. But what about a good follower?

We hear a LOT about leadership, not so much about followership. And yet in order to be a good leader, in order to accomplish the mission, we also need to be good followers. What is good followership? It is the ability to get things done that are in alignment with the mission.

What makes a good follower?

  1. Competence – The capability, talent and knowledge to accomplish the job.
  2. Loyalty – They are loyal to the organization, the leader and the mission.
  3. Work Ethic – They are willing to show up and stay until the job is done.
  4. Courage – The courage to speak up when necessary even to those in power.

I think most organizations would be very pleased with a team that had these capabilities. The next question is, “where do you get them”? The answer is you develop them. I am not sure when it happened but in my old industry, healthcare sales the recruiters only wanted experienced people. How do you find those?

Let’s look at each of the qualities above and examine how leaders can create good followers

  1. Competence – In order to develop competence in sales I had to sell. In my first enterprise sales role, they put me through 90 days of 8 hour a day training. 30 days classroom, 30 days in the field and then 30 days back in the classroom. When training was complete, I knew the specifications of what I sold and I had a rudimentary knowledge of the sales process. I believe we were taught the Xerox PSS II sales model. I could call on a customer and start serving them in a basic way.

As time went on and I rode with managers and other reps, I receive, coaching, insights and feedback that allowed me to get even better as I integrated that with my experience. I became competent.

  1. Loyalty – Loyalty is earned. You earn it by being loyal, by being clear on the mission and the job at hand. You earn it by providing the resources for your followers to do the job. That could be training, equipment and/or processes. You earn it by trusting your people. Someone has to trust first, and as the leader you can demonstrate this. . Barry was very good at this. As a retired Marine Captain, he was talking about how “Leaders Eat Last” back in the early 90’s. He made sure we got what we needed to do the job. And I knew he had my back.
  1. Work ethic – Someone once said, you learn to work by working. Work must be valued. People are social creatures and they will take their cue from their peers. So if you want your team to have a work ethic, you must demonstrate it and be clear on expectations. Bob was great at this. He was almost always there before I arrived and often after I left (late to avoid traffic). He was very clear on expectations and was able to “inspect” in a non-threatening way, while still holding us accountable. This is not a one-time communication – this all day every day. It becomes your culture.
  1. Courage – The courage to speak up. First, we have to reward those that speak up even if we don’t always look good in the feedback. We also have to demonstrate courage in the feedback we give. If we avoid difficult conversations, so will our people.

Regardless of your position in the organization you are following someone. And if you are good at following and you so desire, you will also be a good leader. As a leader, are you developing good followers?

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