Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The importance of being a good follower.

Post 383 - For some reason, the word “follower” seems to have a bad connotation in this society. A recent article reported that a search for book titles on netted 57,000 hits for books on leadership, but only 494 books about how to follow. However, according to Aristotle, "He who's never learned to obey can’t be a good commander."

Effective followers are highly participative, critical and independent thinkers. They aren’t just "yes men," and good leaders appreciate that because they’re confident enough to hear opposing views that help them avoid pitfalls. When leaders are willing to follow others who are more qualified to lead particular tasks, the probability of the success of the greater objective is higher. Being a good leader is often about being able to be a good follower. It’s about having the flexibility to step aside and let someone else take the reins when it benefits the team as a whole.

Good followers continue to give advice even when this advice isn’t being followed. Following isn’t about submissively carrying out any task asked of you. Good followers are active individuals who contribute not only through their actions but through their ideas, thoughts and emotional sensitivity as well. They’re not afraid to disagree. They defend their positions and their arguments, but when a decision is finally made, they drop their arguments and move on. When they disagree with those in authority, they try to do so in private to avoid embarrassing confrontations. They don't broadcast what was discussed and they don’t disrespect their leaders behind their backs. In other words, good followers are loyal.

Good followers show respect to those in legitimate positions of authority in a company (and in a country). They don’t call people names, use provocative language, or engage in passive-aggressive behavior. If they had differing opinions on something in the past, and it turned out that they were right, they don't keep bringing it up. They don’t blame their leaders for unpopular decisions or policies; they view their role as supporting, not undermining. They have a high sense of responsibility for their own actions and for the good of the group as a whole. They’ll therefore question or even oppose leadership that’s unethical or against the good of the enterprise.

No one likes to work for a micromanager. We all believe we’re smart enough to get our job done without someone looking over our shoulder and giving detailed directions. However, one reason people are tempted to micromanage is because they see their subordinates standing around waiting for specific instructions. They then feel obliged to provide it. So, good followers use their initiative to decide on a course of action before running it past their leaders.

Developing followers is an important responsibility of leadership. Good leaders grow people, bad leaders stunt them. Good leaders serve their followers, bad leaders enslave them. When everyone tries to be the leader at the same time, nothing gets done. So be a good leader when it is your time. But be a good follower, too.

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