Most employees spend more time as followers than as leaders. After all, they cannot all be leaders! In this blog, we’ll discuss the importance of being a responsible and effective follower. Great leaders can only exist and accomplish extraordinary goals because they have supportive followers.
Followership Definition
The willingness of individuals – team members – to offer their personal commitment to a cause and acknowledge the central leader as a source of guidance, motivation and authority. To cooperate in working towards the accomplishment of the group mission, to demonstrate a high degree of teamwork and to build cohesion among the group.

What is “The Art of Followership”?
Followers often do not get the respect they deserve. Being a follower is not a science; it is an art. In order to have a leader, there must be followers who are committed to a universal goal. This is a fact we cannot ignore or take lightly. We should all aim to be good followers, even as we are groomed to be good leaders. Once we become leaders, we must take the time to train and increase the skill level of our followers as they are an essential component of our team.

Followership is not for the meek and passive. – Followership means being responsible, participating and challenging when it comes to what you do in life and work.

Five Levels of Followership

  • Level 1: Fear of Retribution – The lowest level of followership is followership motivated by fear. “If I do not follow…”, I will lose my job or my respect. People at this level are following to avoid trouble, not because they want to follow and be a part of a team.
  • Level 2: Blind Hope – The next level of followership comes from a place of faithless hope. “We must do something. I hope this works!” This person is following out of desperation and is not certain of the outcome. They are using the “hope and pray” strategy without much trust.
  • Level 3: Faith in Leader – This level of followership is motivated by confidence in the abilities of the leader. “What a great person. If anyone knows the answer, she does!” This is a much better source of followership than the previous levels. These people do not need to have 100% certainty to follow the leader because they have faith and trust in the person.
  • Level 4: Intellectual Agreement – This level of followership is very conscientious; the follower is on the same page intellectually. “What a great idea! That makes sense!” They are following the leader because they agree with the reason and rationality of the leader. This gives the follower a higher level of investment in the ultimate outcome.
  • Level 5: Buying the Vision – This level of followership is the highest level and where you want your followers to be when they are with you. It is the “What a brilliant idea! I don’t care who thought of it!” This pulls the followers forward with the leader. This has a great deal to do with how the leader motivates and communicates with others as well.

Are you a good follower? Which level of followership are you currently operating at?

Competencies and Components of Effective Followers

  • Displays Loyalty
    An effective follower shows deep commitment to the organization and respect to the leader. The follower may disagree, but they are able to do so in a respectful manner.
  • Successful in Change-Oriented Environments
    A leader is often involved in change within a company or organization. An effective follower can move fluidly through these changes and is able to act as a leader or follower as needed.
  • Functions Well on Teams
    Followers should be able to work well with other followers. Disagreements are discussed with integrity and respect.
  • Thinks Independently and Critically
    A great follower is not a sheep to be herded; her or she should be able to think independently of the leader. A good follower should be able to think critically, take initiative and practice self-management.
  • Considers Integrity of Paramount Importance
    A good follower considers integrity of the highest importance. They are not afraid to tell the truth and can follow directions well.

Skilled Followership Qualities

  • Know What You Are Expected to Do
    Good followers know what they are expected to do because they make sure their tasks have been clearly communicated. Be diplomatic but determined to follow up and address conflicts with your leader.
  • Take Initiative and Keep the Leader Informed
    Good followers take personal responsibility to remove obstacles to goals and achievements. They take the time to foster respect and trust by taking initiative and keeping the leader up to date on the goal completion progress.
  • Provide Accurate Information and Feedback
    Good followers know it is their responsibility to provide clear feedback to the leaders. The information they provide can influence the leaders, so honest, accurate and sometimes direct feedback is vital to the company and the team.
  • Support the Leader’s Efforts to Generate Positive Change
    To reach an objective or goal often requires change. The leader needs support in this area. Followers are excellent in providing this to the leader and the company.
  • Challenge the Leader’s Flawed Plans or Strategies
    The best thing your followers can do is share feedback when an idea is not a good direction for the company or team. This takes guts but is vital to the team.
  • Show Appropriate Recognition and Appreciation of the Leaders
    Leaders have a lot of pressure and bear many responsibilities. Be sensitive to the leaders as they often must carry a lot of emotional weight for the team.
  • Provide “Upward” Counseling or Coaching When Necessary
    Often, the followers have more information and facts for the team and may have been a part of the team longer than the leader.
  • When It Is Necessary … Say No!
    A good follower must never accept abuse or unethical treatment from a leader. It is important to address these types of concerns before unacceptable behaviors become habitual.

“We have good corporals and good sergeants and some good lieutenants and captains….and those are far more important than good generals.”~ Gen. William T. Sherman

The 10 Rules of Good Followership (Wisdom from a Career Military Office)

  1. Don’t blame your boss.
    Your job is to support, not undermine, your boss or leader. You should respect the leader.
  2. Fight with your boss, if necessary, but do it ONLY in private.
    Do not argue or create embarrassing situations in front of the team. When you disagree, discuss in private to come to an agreement.
  3. Make the Decision!
    Feel free to provide the best recommendation even though you may not have the final decision. Make the decision to support the team!
  4. Accept responsibility whenever it is offered.
    Ask for responsibility and accept it when it is offered to you. You are a vital part of the team. In fact, a follower is one of the most important team members.
  5. Tell the truth and don’t quibble.
    It is important to get good and quality information. This involves telling the truth about a current or upcoming situation. Do not sit on the sidelines and simply tell the leader what they want to hear.
  6. Do your homework; give your boss all the information needed.
    Anticipate and find the answers to questions your leader may ask or be asked by their superiors. Make sure the team is moving towards their goal and succeeding.
  7. When making a recommendation, remember who will probably have to implement it.
    You must know your own limitations and weaknesses, especially when making recommendations. This will ensure that all tasks are completing in the proper and timely manner.
  8. Keep your boss informed of what’s going on in the office.
    Do not be afraid to share who may need more support. Remember, this may happen to you as well, so accept it with an open mind.
  9. If you see a problem, fix it.
    Do not worry who will get the praise or the punishment. Instead, focus on removing obstacles to reaching the goal as a team.
  10. Put in more than an honest day’s work, but don’t ever forget the needs of your family.
    When possible, do more work than is needed so that the goal can be reached, but do not sacrifice your family in this process.

“If I had to reduce the responsibilities of a good follower to a single rule, it would be to Speak Truth to Power”. – Warren Bennis

Presented by:

Rick Ellis, CPM
Ellis Consulting Group

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