A Fresh Look at the F-Word: Followership
Excellent followership gets more done, more effectively and efficiently. It facilitates the work of the team; makes managing easier; and extends the reach of leadership by finding opportunities, solving problems, and delighting customers. People who are great followers are happier with their work and take greater accountability for the success of the organization.
Because of this, individuals should make it a personal priority to develop followership; managers should learn to coach it within their teams; money and resources should be provided to develop it; and executive teams and organizations should make followership an area of emphasis.
As a leader, you can build and reinforce followership by acknowledging its value and distinctiveness, by making the invisible visible through using the f-word, by talking about the specific behavior’s value, by giving examples to your team of how senior leaders in your company have demonstrated excellent followership, and by modeling the behaviors you seek.
As a follower, ensure that you are doing everything you can to best support your leader’s goals and be a go-to collaborator for your peers. But be careful not to manage up.
Does followership ensure you will always do the right things? No. It’s a set of skills, not a moral compass. But it is an essential building block in an actionable model for partnerships. It is the complement to leadership that opens up new opportunities and insights. Once those building blocks – followership and leadership – are in place, a partnership can reach its full, generative potential.
A New Kind of Leadership
Great leadership helps people become better than they are and better together. It creates a work environment that attracts and motivates workplace partners, builds relationships, breaks down barriers to progress, and creates conditions for success.
In modern organizations leadership is dynamic: everyone takes on a leadership role from time to time. Leadership is defined not by role or hierarchy but by “Who’s Got the Ball?” How do you know whom to pass the ball to? It may be the person with the most technical expertise; the person with the most passion or creative inspiration; or the person with the capability, capacity, and drive to take the lead.
Leadership has to be trainable and, therefore, a leadership model should be about skills. Specifically, it should be about interpersonal skills: being a skilled administrator, for example, is important for managers, but that doesn’t make it a leadership skill.
When you know what leadership is (and isn’t), you can teach it, mentor it, learn it, and develop the appropriate skills.
Finally, all the leadership skill in the world is meaningless (or, at least, less meaningful) if there isn’t a complementary followership skill. The two are a matched set.
Principle 1: Partnerships Need Leadership and Followership. They Are Equal, Dynamic, and Different.
Partnerships become generative when a leader-focused mindset is replaced by one that embraces the roles of both leadership and follower-ship. The roles are equal, dynamic, and different:
✓ There is a deeply held belief that everyone in the partnership or team is equal and an equally valuable contributor.
✓ There is awareness that leadership and followership shifts between people, irrespective of formal titles and hierarchies.
✓ There is recognition and appreciation for the different skills of leadership and followership.
Principle 2: Leadership Is Setting the Frame. Followership Is Creating Within It.
Partnerships become generative when specific advice – leadership is about delegation and followership is about following orders – is supplanted with expansive thinking around framing and creating.
✓ Leadership is setting a frame that builds optimum conditions for success and peak performance.
✓ Followership is about understanding the frame and maximizing contributions within it.
✓ Both roles emphasize accountability, action orientation, and adaptability.
Principle 3: Lean In to Build Connection.
Partnerships become generative when both partners lean in to build connection and continually work to develop the essential ingredients of mutual understanding, communication, trust, and support.
✓ Partners must apply a bit of good pressure in the partnership to avoid falling over! Too little pressure and you lose the connection. Too much pressure and movement is restricted.
✓ There is a balance point or optimal point of connectedness that we call the generative point, and it differs with every partnership.
On either side of the generative point are two extremes, a hands-off approach and a leaning on or micromanaging approach. Neither proves effective.
Principle 4: Value the Positive, and Build on It.
Partnerships become generative when both partners value the positive aspects of the partnership while also investing energy and time to build on it and take it to the next level.
✓ Humans have natural negativity biases. It’s important to fight against the bias by reinforcing positivity, creativity, and well-being instead.
✓ When all people get is the positive without encouragement for enhancement, it saps energy and drive.
✓ When all people get is criticism without first valuing the positives, it is debilitating and destroys creativity.
✓ It’s the combination of both that stimulates ongoing peak performing.
Principle 5: Have Deeply Shared Goals.
Partnerships become generative when there is a foundation of deeply shared goals.
✓ Shared goals are a platform for collaboration rather than competition. They ward off interpersonal and intra-team conflict.
✓ Shared goals ensure that resources are available and are pulling in the same direction.
✓ Goals must be shared with someone, throughout the team and organization, and be truly shared as opposed to a same goal.