Earlier this year, I was sitting in a restaurant in St. Louis reading an article in the Wall Street Journal and I had an epiphany. This is my 22nd year of traveling around the globe teaching a number of different business workshops including Advanced Leadership and in all that time I have never heard of a single company, nor met a single instructor, that taught a class on followership. How can this be? In order to have effective leaders, you need effective followers. And everyone in the company has someone they have to follow, even the CEO has to report to the board of directors. I know that most people love to go to a leadership class because they want to think of themselves as leaders and aspire to be better leaders, but few people would get very excited about going to a followership class, even though being a good follower is a critical steppingstone to becoming a great leader. True to form, I immediately went to Amazon.com and bought every single book I could find on followership and have begun a quest to study this topic deeply so that I can create a program on how to be a superb follower. However, I decided yesterday when working with a fantastic client in Las Vegas, to test my idea. I explained to the audience of about 300 people what I have just explained above to you and heard a giant sigh from the crowd as they too realized they had never been taught how to be highly effective followers. To learn more, I broke the audience up into groups of 5 to 7 people and asked each group to develop a shortlist of what they felt were the most important things needed to be a great follower. I then asked several of the groups to share their list and here are some of the things they came up with:
- Want to be there – be engaged
- Be highly capable and competent
- Support the vision
- Know the vision, mission and goals of the company
- Hold yourself highly accountable
- Ask for help when needed
- Work to support the leader and the team
- Give loyalty – but not blind loyalty
- Challenge the leader’s ideas when appropriate, but with respect
- Be proactive, don’t wait to be told what to do
- Have an ownership mentality
This is just a partial list of the feedback I got but it is extremely telling. Although a number of these correspond with the sort of answers I get when I ask about what it takes to be a leader that people would willingly follow, there is a portion of this list that is unique to being an excellent follower. Based on this feedback I am extremely excited to be building a new class on the elements of effective followership, and I would highly value any feedback or ideas you want to share with me as I research this topic and begin to build the new program.
What do you think it takes to be a great follower? I very much look forward to your ideas.