Do you follow?

Ducks in a row

Are you the kind of person who always takes charge?

Whether it’s the next crucial corporate project or just the sunday family barbeque, are you always in the thick of it, organizing, planning and making decisions?

That makes you a natural leader, but how are you as a follower?

Leaders can’t always lead. Once in a while we all need to take the backseat and let someone else drive. Their way.

And here’s the thing: Good leaders can be true pests as followers. If they aren’t careful, they end up taking over. Of course, the real fun comes when there are two or more compulsive leader in a project, fighting each other to take over and do things their way.

Apart from good leadership, leaders must display good followership when this is called for, which is difficult because it goes against their nature.

Leaders who also know how to follow can use these situations to inspire followership in others by being good followers themselves, but it means that they must take extraordinary care to stay in the backseat and not inadvertantly take over. Here’s how to do it.

Let them do it their way
It may not be your way, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Hey, it may work even better than what you have in mind.

Let them fail or succeed
Remember that even when you’re 100% positively sure they’ll fail – they might still make it work.

Accept their truth
You may see the task differently, but you may be wrong. Wait and see who turns out to be right.

Volunteer for the crappy tasks
Andy Reid of What If Innovation, the highly successful London-based innovation agency, told me that their executives are not above doing menial office tasks like cleaning the toilets. This sends a powerful message, and raises everyones motivation to just get the boring stuff done – as opposed to having interminable office feuds over who should do it.

Simply put, leaders should be even better than regular followers and take even more care not to lead too much.

When leaders practice followership they also teach the people around them leadership (remember this simple formula), by giving them a real, un-interrupted chance to lead and learn.

Great leadership requires great followership. And for most leaders, good followership takes practice.

7 thoughts on “Do you follow?”

  1. Great to have you back from the slopes Alex!

    Have you read, dare I ask, The Power of Followership by Robert Kelley? I found it very helpful. There is a fun little assessment in the book about identifying your followershp style. I often use it in workshops to get some conversation around attitudes at work.

    Did you see your picture over at Own Your Brand?

  2. Hey, I’m following Michael (must resist, must resist). The photo of the ducks alone made my day.

    As you note, we can’t all lead, all the time. And, I think we in the U.S. have gotten a tad (okay, a lot) carried away with the idea that everyone should/can be a leader. Some folks make much better followers and are indeed extremely uncomfortable if placed in a leadership class, let alone a role. And, if we’re pushing and shoving to be in front – we’re not going to be getting much done.

  3. ‘Follow the Leader’ is a funny game to play, it shows something ‘crucial’ about the kids (and ‘grown-ups’) of today: Who has the skills to follow and who has the skills to set a reachable set of movements in the game.

    And: if no one is following the leader, how should we get all the ‘boring’ stuff done (:

    A nice & positive to you!

  4. Hi Mike. Nice to be back. Thanks for another book suggestion which I’ll add to my to-read-list. I just saw what you’ve written about this blog, and I’m happy and honored.

    Mary: Thanks for your comment on the ducks :o) And I also think that we’re not appreciating the value of followers enough.

    Adam: Great thought. I think if we let some business leaders play follow the leader, everyone would try to lead.

    I think that good leadership is dynamic, ie. it shifts according to a myriad factors instead of always resting with one person.

  5. I think it’s interesting to see the parallels between this philosophy and that of Jesus. The leader should be the servant of all and everything. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but in my opinion it corroborates what good advice this is.

    However, I wouldn’t go as far as to dress in a towel and wash your employees feet ;)

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