As a follower, what do you desire from your leader? What characteristics would be beneficial to you in your pursuit of following with excellence?
In 1994, Warren Bennis suggested that followers need three basic qualities from their leaders: “they want direction; they want trust; and they want hope.”
Direction. Trust. Hope.
As we think about leadership-followership being fundamentally a relational dynamic in which two different roles are joined together surrounding a common purpose, these three elements are indeed valuable attributes which can facilitate a cooperative and effective environment for both leading and following with excellence.
But there are two follow-up questions that we followers must ask ourselves.
What do we do if we find these qualities? And, do we display these qualities in our own work and relationships?
It is one thing to have a leadership wishlist, but it is another step of excellence to respond to and benefit from leaders that offer us these resources. When a leader offers direction, do we fully engage in the group endeavor, contributing well to see the aim achieved? Or, do we grumble and complain that the direction given is not exactly what we wanted, and so fall into laziness and lackluster participation?
When we encounter trust, do we guard and fulfill that responsibility, or do we use it as a shield in order to work surreptitiously toward our own ends?
When offered hope, the encouragement of the possibility of a beneficial outcome, do we allow ourselves to be fueled toward worthwhile investment, or do we pessimistically despise the likelihood of any achievement, and so withdraw our best efforts and full presence from the community?
Followers have an obligation to be good stewards of the environment when they do encounter the fulfillment of the direction, trust, hope wishlist.
But the second question we also must evaluate is whether we too bring these qualities into our associations. Do we also offer vision, providing guidance to those that may be at a loss for what or how, or who might be stumbling along the way as the group works to complete its purpose?
Do we live lives that are trustworthy, fulfilling responsibilities that have been given to us with diligence and excellence? Do we embrace honesty in our communication and integrity in our activities? And do we offer a posture of trusting our leaders and colleagues as well, giving them the benefit of the doubt, walking in pre-forgiveness, and seeking clarity before falling into presupposition and misunderstanding?
Do we express hope, validating the merits of our efforts and aims, optimistic about the possibility for personal, team, and organizational improvement? Do we persevere through struggles, confident that cooperation may yet lead us past the hurdles which seem insurmountable?
As Bennis said, followers may want and need direction, trust, and hope from their leaders. But leaders and fellow followers should equally desire expressions of these same characteristics from each member of the team.
We have the responsibility, not just to wish for and seek excellence in our leaders, but to personally contribute to a successful relational dynamic, establishing an environment in which all contributors can benefit from direction, trust, and hope.
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