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In Praise of Followers

Heather Hughes

So much has been written about leaders and leadership that the plethora of books devoted to leaders, leadership growth and development would overflow the shelves of most corporate libraries.

Yes, leadership is important.  And while many great leaders have provided strategic direction and built corporations of major significance, not all are able to inspire others to follow into unknown areas when the tried and true paths of yesterday seems so very safe and familiar.

Blind faith is not needed

‘Followers’, the people who march along well trodden paths, are found in any organization, and just as ‘leader’ is not a title, neither is ‘follower’ meant to imply simply going along with the masses.

Blind faith - doing what everyone else does without questioning the plan - is not the type of follower organizations need. What they need are people who insist on understanding before acting.

They need followers who ask questions that provide clarity:

“How does this connect to our strategic plan?”

“What is it about this approach that will make a difference?”

“When should we expect to see results?”

 “How should we measure our performance?”

“What are our clients looking for?”

Vision and Execution

Cycling-team-250x197When they grasp the intent of the leader, know their role, and understand what needs to be done, those followers willing to roll up their sleeves to get the job under way.

Organizations are successful NOT just because of great visionary leaders, but because they know how to rally the team – the followers – the ones who know that they make a difference to the success of the organization.  The ones who are willing to pitch in and get on with the daily work.

Inching their way forward

A group of followers at Chemainus Sawmill – a manufacturing plant on Vancouver Island - understanding the vision of their leader, took the quality and performance challenge to heart. They systematically found ways to notch up their results, and slowly, incrementally, they inched their way forward. So, while the desired results were envisaged and articulated by the leader, the followers were the ones who created the actual results. These followers truly saved their company, which went on to win international awards when others were struggling simply to survive.

Hip Hip…

So while we need extraordinary leaders, people with a vision of the future, a sense of how much better things could be, let’s remember - we need followers too.

We need people who embrace the vision, but aren’t afraid to challenge the path; people who support their leaders but aren’t afraid to defend the client.

I say three cheers for followers; they are making the world a much better place.

 

Do you know of any ‘followers’ who are making a difference in their organization because they are reliably, conscientiously, consistently, dependably doing their routine work?  Tell us how they came to be successful, because those followers deserve our recognition; they are the backbone of our economy.

Comments

I like that you highlighted “Vision AND Execution” because even with an extraordinary leader with a compelling vision, the whole team is needed to ensure the strategies are implemented and adjusted, when necessary, to fulfill the vision. I think those who might be regarded as “followers” are also leaders within their own realm of responsibility because they, too, need to collaborate with and influence others in achieving the strategic actions to achieve the vision. These “leader-followers” might even regard their work as boring and routine but, in the overall scheme of things, their achievements are crucial.

By Diane Thompson on 2010/11/24

How true Diane, at any given time any one of us can switch from leader to follower and back again. These roles are intertwined and far too many leaders think that once they become ‘a leader’ they will never be a follower again - not true. I’ve seen many leaders who have devoted their time to listening to employees on the production line, and let them take the lead on initiatives, with the leader acting in support of their plans - truly a reversal of roles. Leaders who discount the value of the followers and only pay attention to the employees who show strong leadership qualities are missing a key aspect of their success. The people who routinely do the hum drum stuff of the business ARE the ones who truly produce the results.

By Heather Hughes on 2010/11/24

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Posted by Heather Hughes
Posted on November 24, 2010
2 Comments

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Categories: change management, culture, hr & talent management, leadership, lessons learned