3 ways to be a Great Follower

There is so much expectation and pressure on every one of us to be leaders.  In every arena, leaders are admired and respected and for the most part that is appropriate.  However, we have all experienced or know of leaders who have disappointed, misused their position and broke the trust of those who follow. 

I know that each of us aspire to be great leaders.  Leading people with charisma, integrity, and being inspirational and all things that are admired.  However, let’s face it, not every leader today has those qualities and not many are successful in that role.  There is one leadership role that we each play and that is to be the leader in our own lives.  We need to lead ourselves by continuously learning, developing, building our capabilities and skills with an intention to make a difference with the people that we do have in our circle.  We don’t need to be “in a leadership” position before we can make a positively impact on someone’s life.

There is one role that we all have and that is to be a follower.  No matter what level of leadership you are in, you are a follower of some kind.  The term follower has somewhat been turned into a taboo word.  A word that almost denotes that you are not as important or as good. 

In today’s “everyone must aspire to be a leader” culture, we have forgotten the importance and critical role that followers play.  If everyone is a leader, who are they leading?  Imagine the chaos in the workplace if everyone is a leader at the same time playing the same role.  We have undermined the role of a follower and in fact made it into a taboo word that only someone who is “not good enough” to be leader naturally falls into the “follower” role.

I would like to change that perspective and identify 3 key areas that makes for a great follower.  Yes, not just a follower but a great follower.  Before we do that, I want to demystify the word follower.  A follower is someone who follows a leader, but a follower is not someone who has a lower IQ, less skills or lower competencies but different set of competencies that might not fall into the leadership category of competencies.  In fact, whether you are leader, or a follower depends on the situation, roles to be played, expertise or skills and environment.  For example, you could be a great business leader but if you are in the jungle and needs to survive, you might be best suited to be a follower of a someone who knows how to survive in the jungle.

A great follower should have these attributes:

  1. Great individual contributor.  He has his specialize set of competencies, performs his role well, works well with others and is well respected.  He knows that he is competent in the area that he is working on, loves what he does and does it well.
  2. Confident and adaptable.  He is confident in his own abilities, has strong sets of values that he lives and works by and is therefore comfortable with change, thinking out of the box and is adaptable.  In today’s ever-changing landscape, to have a follower that is adaptable is an enormous asset for any leader and organization.
  3. Challenges constructively.  In any discussion or brainstorming session, there is a great need for people to think out of the box, to share perspective that not tunneled by the organization’s culture, to help the leader by challenging assumptions and cultural norms all with the purpose of getting the best possible solutions for any problems.  Followers are not to just blindly follow whatever the leader decides but to follow with commitment and conviction and that can only occur if the solution is agreed upon and is in alignment with the company’s values and goals.

Think about the role that you are playing today.  Are you a leader?  Are you a follower?  Are you a leader/follower?  I dare say that for most of us we are in the hybrid role of leader/follower.  We are leaders in a certain area but are followers in certain situations.  To be the best leader/follower is to understand and value the role of the follower.  If we only value the leader, there is a misalignment in the essential role that a great follower would play.  In fact, the world has more “followers” than leaders.  I know that in my “leader” role, I love to have great followers which those 3 attributes as mentioned above.  It is challenging but extremely rewarding when the team is performing at its best level.  That happens when we are comfortable with playing the most appropriate roles depending on the situation. 

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