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Follow First...Then Lead

    Lately, I've been intrigued by the concept of 'followership' or being a follower.  Let's face it. We live in a world where we're all expected to become leaders.  What about those of us who don't want to be a leader?  Interestingly, there is a school of thought which turns this 'in vogue' thinking on its head.

    Why Follow First?

    Followership is the other side of leadership. It isn't fun or sexy and none of aspire to be a follower. They don't really teach it in business school or in any organization that I'm aware of, and it certainly isn't trumpeted as a key to sustainable success. A good follower is a good team member. Someone who takes direction, meets deadlines, and delivers on promises.

    And guess what? If everyone is busy leading, who's going to dig in, get their hands dirty and do all of the work?

    In Courageous Followers, Courageous Leaders, Ira Chaleff says, "We are a society in love with leadership and uncomfortable with followership, though the subjects are inseparable. We don’t honor followership."  

    Follower ranks a distant last in the many roles we play: father, mother, brother, sister, manager, employee, teacher, student, leader, friend, etc. Followership is underrated. Followers are protected from having to address disgruntled employees, and can dodge conflicts and problems that leaders are forced to address. This is beginning to sound appealing.

    There are a few brave souls out there who are out to challenge us to first be good followers.  Who'd have thought that really 'listening' and forming close working relationships with others would be a prerequisite for developing good leadership skills? Sitting back and empowering others to come up with creative ideas is a good thing, rather than thinking we need to always be the one doing it.

    Traits of Ideal Followers

    In 9 Personality Traits of Ideal Followers, by J. Norman Baldwin, July 17, 2017, he's identified these 9 traits:

    - They're effective communicators

    - They're hustlers

    - They have strong social skills

    - They're team players

    - They're responsible

    - They're flexible

    - They have integrity

    - They're committed

    - They're competent

    I don't know about you, but if these are the personality traits of ideal followers, I'd sure like to be one of those.

    The Pluses and Minuses of Followership

    Baldwin points out that there is a down side to being a follower. If you find yourself working in a growth depressing job or subordinated to a abusive or incompetent leader, it's no fun to be a follower. 

    Followers also need to be able to 'speak up' to leaders, particularly when leaders need to re-think or make a course correction in something they've decided to do.  If a follower speaks up only to be rebuffed by the leader, it's only human nature that the follower may not speak up again in the future.  And if this is happens, the follower, the leader, and the organization all lose.

    On the 'plus side' of the equation, if you do not enjoy or are not stimulated by the diversity of responsibilities of leadership positions, this provides you with a fulfilling alternative. In comparison, it is typically less stressful, you'll be more engaged, and it will offer you more job satisfaction.

    My Ego is a Factor

    In How Becoming a Follower Made Me a Better Leader, Deb Gabor, December 8, 2017, states, "I learned that much of my leadership style is based upon being a hero and feeding my own ego.  And that has been at the expense of some really worthwhile relationships and ideas."

    Ahhh! The 'e' word. Well, we all have an ego, and while it may (for some) be better satisfied by leading, it will likely take on a different level of significance as a follower.

    If you decide to become an invaluable participant ('follower') in your job, your organization will definitely love you back.  And guess what? If someday you decide that you'd like to be a leader, you'll undoubtedly be positioned to be a far better one for having been a good follower.

    Good luck.

    theHRMeister is now Principled HR Consulting, LLC


    How Becoming a Follower Made Me a Better Leader, by Deb Gabor, December 8, 2017

    9 Personality Traits of Ideal Followers, by J. Norman Baldwin, July 17, 2017

    Courageous Followers, Courageous Leaders, by Ira Chaleef, in New Relationships for Learning and Performance - Ideas for Leaders, December 2001