As a leader, there are a number of things one can do to facilitate excellent followership. We previously looked at “displaying dependence” as one critical aspect for opening the doorway to trust and soliciting the best contributions from your followers. Today, we consider establishing the environment.
Establishing the Environment. Teams and organizations have their own cultures, and one of the values of culture is in providing norms for interaction and expectations. Culture operates on a number of levels: broad national cultures create one layer of expectation, but those expectations and the nature of relationships become further refined (for example) at the state level, the organizational level, the department level, etc. There are layers and layers of culture that feed into the environment within which a given team operates.
It is the duty of the leader to intentionally establish that environment in such a way that it promotes, expects, and relies upon excellent followership.
What are some environmental/cultural factors that a leader needs to consider?
Some are structural. For instance, the use of titles and the realities of hierarchy can do much to shape the flow of communication. This doesn’t mean that titles inherently restrict interaction; sometimes they provide much-needed clarity. On the other hand, organizational flowcharts can be abused, add to confusion, or inhibit cooperation or access to the right person. Thus, the leader has an important role in shaping the implementation of organizational structures and in establishing an environment that takes advantage of hierarchy in order to facilitate relationships (see Chapter 4 of Embracing Followership, on misconceptions about hierarchy).
Some environmental factors are interpersonal. What is the team culture of vulnerability? What is the place for the display of passion and emotion? How much expression of personality and individuality is tolerated? How much of these is actually welcome and encouraged?
Different ethnic cultures will have much to say (or imply) about the appropriateness of these various displays. So, there is no one universal right or best environment that a leader should seek to establish. Rather, an acute knowledge of the individuals on one’s team, the surrounding majority culture, any minority culture…all of these pieces of awareness will come together to indicate the necessary aspects of the team culture that will facilitate excellent followership for all.
And some environmental factors are personal–a leader’s own display of preferences and behaviors. How do leaders feel about diversity (ethnic, experience, skill set, personality temperament, etc.)? Diversity oftentimes brings challenges in the short-term, limiting accomplishment and achievement while a team figures out how to work together, how to communicate, how to steward the various human resources that are present. Is there a hope, an expectation, of long-term gains and benefits as a result of diversity? Is there a commitment to invest in team development?
How is your posture as a leader when it comes to things like learning, and listening? Are you ever-and-always the expert? Are you aware of what you don’t know? Is your word always final? Must you always have the last word? Do you receive questions as often as you ask them? Do you expect answers as often as you offer them?
Leadership and followership is a relationship, and relationships always occur within a particular context. The leader has a primary responsibility and a special degree of influence in establishing that environment in such a way as to enhance the possibility for followers to contribute their very best.
In considering the organization’s structure, facilitating interpersonal dynamics, and personal awareness of one’s own preferences and proclivities, the excellent leader can fulfill an important facet of facilitating excellent followership.
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.
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