The Lessons of Great Followership

Followership? Doesn’t have that sexy ring to it like leadership has. I’m ready to bet there are more blogs and posts out there (including on mine) devoted to what constitutes great leadership, than there is celebrating and pinpointing what makes good followership. Why could this be? Perhaps it is, because leading is what many people aspire to? It is also usually a surefire way to get paid more for potentially knowing less, as you rely on specialists in your team to deliver the stuff you don’t know yourself. Not to say leaders don’t know anything, it is more to say that there tends to be more established routes for career progression and rewards for leaders than there are for assessing specialists and quantifying their expertise and thus rewarding them accordingly. Just an observation, but an interesting one nevertheless and perhaps something worth delving into in a subsequent post..

Back to followership. Perhaps rather than focus on the term followership, it is worth focusing on what makes a team work really well. Followership has some negative connotations to it such as the notion of sheep, a herd, not thinking for yourself, being dependent on others, not taking initiative and so on. Those, albeit unfortunate elements of crowd mentality should not be confused with what makes a team function well. A well-functioning team needs a good or several good leaders. In fact team members themselves need to be as well versed in the skills of great leadership (see post on the lessons of great leadership) as these skills are called upon not just by the leader, but should be ones that the team adhere to, when taking initiative. Moreover, in addition to great leadership, the team needs to function well as a team, which means sharing a set of values or behaviours that make it easy for team members to work with one another, be lead effectively by the leader and support each other in getting the job done. It is those qualities that are the focus of this post.

Humphrey Walters, a great leadership coach, has assembled this list of lessons for Followership, which work very well in conjunction with a leader that follows the lessons of great leadership (see link above). Thus the two compliment one another and the team itself accomplishes something greater than the sum of its parts. What are those lessons? Here we go:

1. Behaving in a Team
Low performing teams tend to have passive team members who rely on the leadership for their energy, excitement and commitment. High performing teams realise that it is their duty to support the leadership with a clear code of ethics and behaviours. They see it as a two-way street. This is something Tom Bailey alludes to in his comment to my post on Great Leadership – it is very important that this point is clear and it made everyone’s responsibility, because otherwise the team will become competitive and feel like not everyone is pulling their weight.

2. Punctuality
Lateness for any meeting or event is deemed as unacceptable. Realising that most relationships are built on trust and reliability and understanding that punctuality is one of the main indicators of trust. Understanding that it is difficult to trust someone who can’t even be bothered to turn up on time.

3. Courtesy
Having an ethos of good manners and general courtesy. Recognising people for their help and effort, and not taking them for granted.

4. Apologising
Learning to apologise early, and having the courage and good grace to accept responsibility, even though it may not be entirely your fault.

5. Second Effort
Having the attitude of doing more than you think you should do to help the performance of the team. Going the extra mile and not leaving it to others with an attitude that “it’s not my problem”.

6. Bullying
Not putting people in situations that they can’t handle. Refraining from saying “It’s easy” when clearly for someone new to the task it definitely is not easy. Not allowing people to make a fool of themselves needlessly.

This to me is a good list, but in terms of making followership smooth, I would also like to add a few bits from the great leadership lessons list to further bolster this one, because to be a great follower/team member you also have to be a leader – even if you only lead yourself! Thus:

  • Be interested in people, get to know your colleagues and team mates – build empathy.
  • If you are not sure what you should be doing, ask and take responsibility for finding out rather than floating!
  • Be bold, help decision making by figuring out what the options are yourself, list the pros and cons and recommend the best one.
  • Don’t blame others. If there is something you can do about the problem, do it and if you don’t, you can blame yourself. Blaming others will not solve the problem.
  • Have the balls to clear out your own mess and clear up things with people face to face, griping about stuff to others and moaning about people behind their back doesn’t do anything for the situation and least of all you.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. S. Thompson says:

    I’d like to cite your blog on Followership in an in-house newsletter. First, may I? And second, how would you like the citation/credit to be noted.

  2. Cecilia says:

    Hi there –
    Of course you can quote it – please credit Humphrey Walters as the original author as it is him that I am quoting in the points 1-6; the rest is me so just refer to
    My very best,

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