We’ve heard a lot in the business world about the importance of good leadership, attributes of a good leader, the importance of being a (fill in the blank) type of leader, etc. But we’ve not heard much about the attributes and importance of good followership. Since by definition there will always be more followers than leaders, don’t you think this is an important skill to explore?
Let’s start by looking at followership from this perspective. Its been said that there are no poor followers, only ineffective leaders. This would presuppose that followership is not all that important. And on the surface, this sounds good, but if you look closely, it puts the entire brunt of responsibility for any group effort solely upon the leader. Could this have anything to do with why groups of people have such a difficult time getting things done?
I think expecting so much from our leaders is a major problem with groups. Further, I think that the traits of an effective follower are similar if not identical to those of an effective leader. So if everyone on a team has effective leadership/followership skills, then the work of the leader and of the team will be that much easier and that much more effective.
But how does this apply to facilitation, you ask? Well, as facilitators, you may often work with groups seeking to improve their own process and their ability to self-facilitate, i.e. to “lead” themselves.
If this is the case, your ultimate goal will to be to work yourself out of the leadership role. If the group is amenable to taking the lead, you’ll need to relinquish control over the group, at times and assume the humble task of the follower. You may even play the role of participant to model for others how to be a good follower.
I believe that facilitation is needed not only because groups often need help in leading themselves, but just as importantly, they need help in learning how to effectively follow the leader. All good leaders need to be followers occasionally for the good of the team, and without a great team, great leadership amounts to nothing.
Attributes of Good Followers
They accept, understand, and follow direction and instruction from the leader. But they don’t blindly follow direction and they aren’t passive wall flowers either.
They are active rather than passive. They will not blindly follow instructions without first understanding all that they need to know to carry out a task and how it supports the group’s mission.
They are responsible. Good followers accept responsibility for their own actions and for the decisions of the group. This may require questioning or even opposing leadership that is against the good of the group or against greater values.
They are creative and resourceful. Good followers do not need to be told everything. Given a task, they will find ways and means to accomplish it without further direction.
They are flexible and able to change direction midstream if necessary to support the group’s greater good.
They are loyal and dependable. Good followers accept being a part of a team and recognize that, at times, they may need to compromise some of their own individual desires for the good of the team. They feel good about themselves by contributing to the group.
They view the success of their team or organization as their own. Therefore, they step in and provide leadership or fall back into follower mode based on the leadership needed in the group at any given moment.
Your assignment this week is to assess your prowess as a follower. Try exercising one of the characteristics of a good follower that may be rusty for you. We’re interested in hearing about your experiences. Share your questions, feedback, or experience in the comments section below.
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