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Don’t miss the followers!

February 18, 2015

A google search for the term – Leadership generates 48,90,00,000 hits. A similar search for the term Followership generates 4,19,000. That means there are 1168 times more articles about Leadership as there are about Followership out there.

Follower1I believe it’s important to have equal focus on Followership – the behaviour of followers, their attitudes, beliefs, fears, concerns and challenges.

Consider this: Amit, a leader, returns from a transformative experience. He has decided to be empowering, humble and to have an open door policy. He announces his decisions to his team with great enthusiasm. A few days or even weeks go by and he realizes that his team is not “taking him up” on the offer. That they continue to behave the same way as before. When he delegates and empowers, he finds his people keep coming back to him for decisions. He is surprised, disheartened and upset. He feels his team isn’t supporting him or doesn’t trust him. Why do you think this is so?

There is always a gap between leadership and followership. This is accentuated in hierarchical organizations where followers have grown used to “following orders” and doing what’s asked of them. They come across as passive or conformist but it is also true that these individuals have not had the opportunity to develop the “muscles” that enable them to embrace empowerment; rather, they have grown up in a world where their leaders took decisions and hence they are comfortable being deliverers. This is true of any system. Individuals get used to their leaders’ style. When this changes suddenly, they are unable to “turn on a dime”. 

As leaders consider personal change, they must realize that it is equally their task to enable their followers to make the complementary changes that are required. This is equally important for change agents and OD professionals to understand and acknowledge. Many leaders however, believe that once they have changed themselves, everyone else will/must follow suit, as if it’s switching on a lightbulb.

followership-450The followership ethic of an organization is the shadow of the style of the leaders; just changing the leadership style is not enough. The leaders must take responsibility for enabling the followers to change. 

Leaders are responsible for systemic change. Practical and pragmatic leaders understand that their teams will need to go through equal pain in order to make the change. They recognize the role they must play in helping transform mindsets and build capability “muscle strength” so that muscles that were never used before can now be developed. Some followers will never make the change because they are too accustomed to the “earlier way”, their own fears of irrelevance, of not being able to adapt will become their worst enemies. Leaders must understand this and support where required and prune where necessary.

Leaders must diagnose the followership ethic in order to ensure effective and rapid organizational transformation and growth. Agile followers are able to adapt to the changing needs of the organization and their leaders. However it is the leadership that must invest in developing these followership characteristics. When leadership and followership come together, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
To my mind the key followership traits/capabilities are:
1. Ability to pragmatically question/challenge the leaders
2. Adaptability and rapid response to change
3. Self-regulation and ensuring impeccable execution
4. Informing and educating the leader
5. Managing up the line – influencing the leader
6. Spotting and growing future leaders
7. Self-development
As a Leader:
How many of these qualities do you as a leader see in your followers? 
What are you doing that inhibits the ones that are missing?
What do you need to influence?
What do you personally need to do differently?
What have you consciously made happen and can take credit for?

Book – How followers are creating change

The Exceptional Strength of Followership – excellent blogpost

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2015 7:00 pm

    A well argued article and if anyone is further interested in Followership there is a Linkedin Group called Followership –

  2. Vijay Vishwakarma permalink
    February 18, 2015 12:09 pm

    This is so true JOY in today’s work place and actually a flip side of the coin which one never thinks of. Thanks for thought provoking share !!

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