Excellent Followership: Spiderweb, Not Hamster Wheel

If you had to choose, would you rather be in a spiderweb or a hamster wheel? Sure, hamsters are cute and fluffy, but their wheels don’t go anywhere. Perhaps no better, spiderwebs can be sticky and tricky, and perhaps a bit freaky.

I’ve been musing on the idea of “support” recently. In my current role at work, I consider my primary responsibility to provide support to the 5 men and women that report to me. The focus of my efforts and my first priority is to try to determine how I can position myself and deploy resources to assist them in fulfilling their jobs.

We might call that “downward support.”

During a meeting this past weekend, one of my subordinates said that he wanted to make sure that he was being a good support to me in my role.

We might call that “upward support.”

But isn’t that a bit of a go-nowhere hamster-wheel scenario? I’m focused on supporting him; he’s focused on supporting me. Who’s getting the actual work done?

One of my favorite analogies in my book Embracing Followership is the idea of a spiderweb. Rather than making this upward or downward support distinction, I prefer to think of leaders and followers joined together as threads in the same web. While many such analogies might conceive of the web as the followers and the spider as the leader (and that image has its uses), I think it can be helpful to conceive of both of us as interwoven strands, joined together in support of our common organizational purpose (represented by the spider).

Not every thread has the same role. Some threads serve to anchor the web to nearby walls and plants. The spider really doesn’t want an insect running into one of those lonely threads. Others are woven more tightly together, working in concert to ensure nothing slips through. Some provide direct support for the spider. Still others will eventually serve as a repository for resources to be utilized in the future. Different functions, but when connected rightly the central goal of maintaining the spider and nourishing the community is achieved.

By looking at the leadership-followership dynamic, not in terms of upward-downward, but as a web of support, we can more easily appreciate the variety of contributions that we make, and we can discover a fresh degree of clarity in navigating the various roles, responsibilities, and interactions within our organizational relationships.

When we arrive at the place of appreciating these interwoven relationships for what they are, it’s very much like seeing a spiderweb sparkling with morning dew: a well-structured, fully functional, network of support. If you can experience it, it’s a thing of beauty.

I look forward to sharing with you my encouragements and practical resources for how you can explore and develop this web support dynamic in your own followership through my book, released February 2016.

Many thanks to my wife for supplying the featured image of a spiderweb for this post!

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