Follow the leader

The cult of the leader is alive and well. Not just in despotic regimes but in the business section of any good bookstore. So what of the followers?

Most of us will never be CEO, the maths are against us quite apart from other constraints such as talent and luck! We can talk about the importance of leadership at every level and in every role within an organisation. We can proclaim the necessary death of hierarchy, as Shawn Murphy’s recent post on Switch and Shift did. We can bemoan a lack of leadership when we feel we are not being properly represented or appreciated.

Perhaps we are really seeking answers to the question “What is good followership?”

In their recent book 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders Al Gini and Roland Green touch on this with their definition of leadership as “a power-laden, value-based and ethically driven relationship between leaders and followers who share a common vision and accomplish real changes that reflect their mutual purpose and goals.”

Leadership always, and only, occurs when people follow. We followers therefore have a responsibility to choose our leaders wisely.

We also need to

  • Understand the organisation’s purpose
  • Understand the part our work team plays in that
  • See where our job fits
  • Be open to doing things differently if that will better meet the purpose
  • Take initiative to make such changes
  • Develop moral courage to know when not to follow, and act wisely on this
  • Be able to work effectively with others (including our leaders) to achieve goals that contribute to the organisation’s purpose.

This takes effort. Followership is active and relational. It is not simply doing as one is told!

The flip side of these look a lot like mainstream leadership advice – articulating meaning, ensuring fit between team and organisational goals, managers and team members creating solutions together, openness to other points of view. They require effective, engaged leadership as well as followership. But a leader is a loner if no one is behind them!

Shawn Murphy’s post

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