“Did you just call me a follower?”

Many people would be offended if they were called a follower, and they certainly wouldn’t think that spending time or money to research, learn, and perform as a follower would be worth their effort.

Those folks would be misguided… and they could potentially lower their organization’s ability to succeed and prosper.  While strong leadership is revered, excellent followership is equally honored and honed in every successful organization.

Check out this definition of followership to determine if you think, even as a leader, that you fit the definition and the traits of followership:  

Followership is a willingness and commitment to take the initiative to provide outstanding service.

Followership traits include integrity, honesty, courage, competence, independent and critical thinking, willingness to learn & be held accountable, willingness to give honest, helpful feedback to the leader , and using one’s skills and talents to help the leader and the organization succeed.

Based on that definition, I would be proud that be labeled a follower!

As someone whose title, for many years,  was leader of a department, I can still see myself committed to the company values, taking on tasks that I knew could help the company succeed, and spending time doing daily due diligence to ensure success for my team and company.  A follower!

In order to inspire followership in others, I need to make 2 things happen:

  • Teach employees how to live the followership traits (yes – they are teachable skills).
  • Check my own followership skills in the mirror, as my group will surely be looking to me as a role model to see how I perform as a follower with my own boss.  

The big question centers around HOW to check your followership skills before expecting strong followership from others.  The Holden Leadership Center at the University of Oregon published a useful, thought provoking tool I’ve used in the past to check my followership skills in relation to actions with my boss.  Here is a slightly modified version to use to take an introspective look at your own traits.

  • In what ways am I truly pursuing the mission/goals of the group while balancing my self-interests?
  • What ideas, purpose or values do I share with the leader? The group?
  • In what way should I be taking more initiative?
  • What particular pressures and challenges does the leader face?
  • If I provided more support to the leader, how might it change their behavior?
  • What redeeming skills, qualities and abilities does my leader possess?
  • How can I help draw these out?
  • How can I help change the environment so these skills and abilities can be demonstrated?

Pretty deep stuff, yet so worth a self-look in order to mirror followership to others!

Leadership and followership are intrinsically linked and both are needed in order for organizations to grow, sustain, and prosper.  Self checking the followership traits, changing the perception of followership, and using strong leadership skills to teach others how to lead and follow are a recipe for team success!

“I am reminded how hollow the label of leadership sometimes is and how heroic followership can be.” —Warren Bennis