In my personal journey of exploring followership, one of my early frustrations was that much of the writing on following was actually aimed at leaders, instructing them in how to make good followers. As a non-leader (at the time), I was looking for a resource that had someone like me as the intended audience.
While I believe that excellent followership begins in the followers themselves, in my journey of serving on various international teams and working groups, I’ve certainly seen that leaders do indeed have an important role to play in facilitating others’ followership. The cooperation of leaders and followers is a relational dynamic, a two-way street of influence, and thus the actions and characteristics of the one greatly impact the quality of the other to fulfill his/her role.
Looking at leadership through the lens of followership, what can a leader do to facilitate and encourage excellent followers? There are 4 vital areas of investment: displaying dependence, establishing the environment, inviting in, and empowering & promoting. We’ll look at each one separately over the course of several blog posts.
Displaying Dependence. A leader that feigns self-sufficiency quickly communicates to followers that their contribution isn’t necessary or significant. A leader that desires to enhance excellent followership must acknowledge areas of personal poverty and create a foundation of trust that opens the door for followers’ input.
Next week, I’ll be hosting a training event for the 5 people that are my direct reports. Part of our time will be an opportunity for us to sit with our varying job descriptions and for me to point out specific areas in my role, and in their roles (which I am to be supporting them in), where I am weak, inadequate, unskilled. I’ll be inviting their input into how I can do better, and asking for their involvement to contribute their own specific talents to accomplish these tasks.
To be honest, it feels a bit risky to do this, and my peer colleagues raised their eyebrows a bit at my plan to do so, but I’m committed to the idea that our leader-follower roles are an essential and dynamic relationship that is necessary to achieving our group aims. It does no good for me to pretend that I’m good at something that we must do well, and it contributes nothing to our organization to keep silent on areas of need that my followers may be well-suited to apply themselves to.
At the very least, I am hopeful that my vulnerability will serve to reinforce the reality of my humanity, and serve as a model and an encouragement for others to reveal their own areas of need. I would rather our team ask one another for help than labor in substandard isolation.
I can recall a few times when my past leaders have said to me, “I need what you can bring to the table.” Often, it was my detail-oriented administrative/organizational bent that visionary leaders were asking for. Such personal admissions, and the accompanying invitation to involvement (see future post on Inviting In), opened a door for me to be who I am and to contribute the best that I have to offer.
And those experiences have kept the door open for me to continue to be who I am, even now that I’m in leadership; rather than having a sense of needing to be an all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips visionary leader, I feel free to continue to operate significantly from my administrative bent, and to solicit vision and ideas and inspiration from others…working together to achieve the things our organization stands for and fulfilling our personal roles and contributions within our various group endeavors.
I only hope that my own display of dependence will provide similar encouragement for my followers.
I’ll let you know how it turns out.
The book chapter, Ch 24: Displaying Dependence, upon which this post is based is available as an article/sample chapter on an external website.
For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:
Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Kirkdale Press, Feb 2016)
Find other recommendations for various aspects of followership on our Resources page.
Links to other posts on this site: Blog Post Archive