Why followership? Answer 1

Why followership? I’m often asked this when I talk to people about my doctoral studies, the research I’m doing and the workshops I run. There are at least three answers to the question. Here is one of them…

My first full time job after finishing uni was as a management trainee in a large retail group. My Arts degree knowledge of English literature and political theory may not have been the most practical preparation for this role. I learned lots. The ladies I worked with were patient with me and were (mostly) happy to be “managed” while letting me know when I didn’t know what I was doing.

One incident stands out. One of the team had been a manager - doing a similar job to the one I was training for and she had recently decided not to continue in that role. She knew how to do things that I hadn’t learned yet and one day I needed some technical help. I asked her what I needed to do, she walked me through it, and the job got done. All was well. Except that I was reprimanded by a more senior manager. Apparently, the person I’d gone to had mentioned to her colleagues that I’d asked for her help. (no, still can’t see the problem). It seemed that I’d violated a rule about “us” and “them”. (Oh, the hierarchy thing…)

Even at the time, when I was very inexperienced, it didn’t make sense to me that managers and staff shouldn’t work together. That managers, especially new managers, couldn’t know everything and that the people with experience knew a great deal. It never occurred to me that asking for help could “reduce my standing”.

I’ve had many jobs since and worked with lots of people, as their manager, as a team member, reporting to unit directors and CEs, and as a colleague seeking to influence without positional authority. I still believe that the title means much less than the ability to listen, and learn, and work together whether a leader or a follower.

That’s why I find followership fascinating

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