March 12, 2015

How To Be An Effective Follower

The word "follower" these days is closely associated with social media like Twitter, who you are following and why. Forget the blue bird and celebrities for just a minute. As an employee, you can influence your career by knowing what's "trending" in the workplace regarding followership. Oh, and just to be fair, check out #followership when you're through reading this.

What is “followership”?

It is not subservience or passive obedience. Followers engage in constructive critical thinking as well as interact with and support the leader to help achieve a task. Sadly, follower has a negative, " are just a follower, next!" connotation as in a situation of the "haves" and the "have nots." Nothing is further than the truth. Followers often have more power - although typically more informal - than leaders. Leaders say, "Hey I have a great idea let's do it!" The role of the follower is to ask questions: How is it going to work? Why are we doing this? Is there an alternative? By empowering followers to handle key initiatives, we can create more refined and targeted ones.

Leadership only works if there are followers

If there were only managers, there would be a lot of talk and planning but no boots on the ground. One does not reach responsible leadership without demonstrating effectiveness in a functioning group. All leaders are followers depending on circumstances. A CEO leads, yet also has accountability to board of directors and or shareholders. Congressional leaders are beholden to their constituents back home.

Who has the power?

Great followership has a process: review, challenge, change, innovate, then go back and review again. This type of critical thinking influences and creates action. It starts with good judgment. Good followers must be able to take direction, but they have an underlying obligation to do so only if the direction is ethical. No one disputes good judgment as a core competency in a good leader, but it is just as important skill in a good follower.

Steps to effective followership

Good followers first need to be good workers: diligent, motivated and achieve and exceed their performance objectives. They do not believe leaders will make decisions for them so all they have to do is A) show up to work, then B) go home. Competent followers cannot follow properly unless competent at the task directed by leaders. Followership takes courage and honesty, which requires discretion and the avoidance of gossip.

Be proud if you are a good follower. Realize that as long as you are engaged, you can live up to your full potential. The more positive messages about good followership that leaders and followers can communicate, the better off we will be as a business community.

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied's division directors, contributed to this article.

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