You may be new to leadership and management or you may be very experienced, but have you heard of followership? What is followership?
I had been in leadership and management roles for many years and only heard of followership during leadership courses in the mid part of my RAF career. I became fully aware of followership and all its benefits when I started to deliver and facilitate leadership and management courses for the RAF. It was a revelation to me as it made so much sense.
I hope to give you my view on what followership is and how knowing it and encouraging it’s use benefits the leaders, the employees and the organisation. This post aims to show that teaching leaders and employees followership it should allow for a much more efficient and effective work environment.
What is Followership
So what is followership? Some think it is just the process of blindly following someone because they are the boss, you agree with what they say and ask you to do as you are the follower.
Thankfully that is not the case. It has been said that you get the leader you deserve and if you display bad followership this will result in bad leadership.
Followership has been described as constructive dissent and constructive consent and relies on the individuals and teams emotional intelligence to know when to challenge a leader and when to support a leader.
Followership is a set of rules that help leaders and employees know what is expected from each other. These rules are simple and in most cases, people will already be doing them, hopefully. The rules are as follows:
- Don’t blame your boss for an unpopular decision or policy, it is our job to support, with a constructive challenge where appropriate, not undermine.
- Disagree with your boss if you need to but do it in private, avoid doing it in front of others and embarrassing each other.
- Never reveal what has been discussed in private conversation.
- Make a decision and run it past the boss. They should empower and support you to do so.
- Accept responsibility whenever offered.
- Be honest and get straight to the point.
- Give your boss the information they require to make an informed decision.
- Be aware of your own limitations and weaknesses as well as your strengths.
- Keep your boss informed and up to date with what is going on. Don’t work in isolation and do what you think the organisation wants without confirming with the boss.
- Don’t walk past problems, deal with them and never worry about who gets the praise or blame.
- Always put in an honest day’s work but never forget your and your families needs. You always perform better when you balance work and family correctly, where possible.
For these rules to work the leader must empower the employees to allow them to have a voice. The leader must be approachable.
There are many followership styles and other elements to followership that I shall look at in further posts.
Why is it important
Followership is about a set of rules that when followed allow leadership to flourish and employees to feel empowered. Everyone is a follower because everyone has someone they have to report to and take direction from. The CEO reports and takes direction from the board, the COO takes direction and reports to the CEO etc.
Therefore if all levels in an organisation understand and practice the rules of followership then that will encourage an open, supportive and constructive working environment where leadership and followership can flourish thus the organisation flourishes.
Where there is poor or no followership then the organisation tends to have poor communications, lacks innovation and has a negative and non-supportive culture. In the worst of cases having poor followership or no followership can lead to inaction and mutiny.
Do Leaders need Followership?
Leaders are never perfect and therefore must be aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They also have to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their team but to achieve this they must have the trust and respect of their team.
To achieve this you must enable an open and constructive relationship where individuals are able to constructively agree or disagree with you. The individual and team must also know that when the decision is made, to follow a given course of action, they must support their leader by giving constructive consent.
If a leader does not have good followers and they themselves do not show good followership then the outcomes for the leader and the team can be poor.
We have all had bosses that talk about private conversations they have had with their boss, who actively dissent against their boss behind their back, who do not encourage open dialogue and in some cases generate fear in people to the point no one knocks on their door for fear of reprisal.
When good followership is discouraged and barriers are put up they make the organisation less efficient and effective.
Leaders need good followership to be able to function as good leaders. Leaders are only as good as their team and therefore for good followership you require good leadership and for good leadership, you require good followership, they are intrinsically linked.
The benefits of good Followership
If an organisation has good followership, as part of its culture, the following happens:
- You enable an open and honest culture.
- You enable your leadership teams to lead.
- You encourage and support open and constructive communications.
- This encourages and supports innovation.
- It leads to a happy and mentally healthy environment.
- The organisation becomes more efficient and effective.
- There is better and more informed decision-making.
Should we make all employees aware of Followership?
What is followership? It is when embraced, encouraged and embedded into the culture of an organisation, one of the most effective and efficient ways to improve communications, empower employees, enable good leadership, encourage innovation and make the business more efficient and effective.
The simple process of selling the virtues and benefits of the rules of followership to an organisation and then encouraging its use, at every level, can truly change an organisation for the better. All organisations will benefit from embedding followership within their culture. We spend large sums of money developing leadership but we never develop the follower or followership.
Maybe this is the time that followership development takes its place at the side of leadership development as an equal partner.
What are your thoughts?