Question: do your followers have a seat at the table? Is their potential for contribution being inhibited by always receiving their information through your personal filters? Are the gaps in your perspective leaving out relevant details, dismissing valuable courses of action, and leading to missed opportunities to anticipate needs and take next steps?
Excellence is not a solo endeavor. Although each follower is individually responsible for his/her performance, there is a vital aspect of leadership in facilitating the quality of that followership. We previously explored the leader’s stewardship of displaying dependence and establishing the environment. We now examine the importance of inviting in.
Inviting In. Perhaps your followership experience has been similar to a season in my own life. Working as a team administrator, I was regularly given tasks related to various projects and situations. My boss would attend meetings and conference calls and tell me what he needed and I would fulfill his requests.
Such a pattern led to a basic level of accomplishment and cooperation, but it seemed like there could be more. My boss and I had very different personalities, experience, and skill sets, and I found myself wondering if there was more to the circumstances or project that would enable me to perform better. I wondered if I could pick up on, or anticipate, other needs, or improved systems, if I had the chance to be personally involved in the conference calls, to sit in the back of the room during the meeting to listen and observe with my own unique perspective.
After a few years of working together, my boss felt a certain level of trust with me, which eventually resulted in an unexpected degree of being invited in. Whereas situations and conversations had previously been above my pay grade and out of my earshot, I was now being handed emails regarding delicate situations and asked to help my leader formulate a response. The foundation of trust and the demonstration of competence enabled my leader to confidently open the door and invite me into a new sphere of involvement where I could directly bring my skills to the situations at hand. No longer were assignments being filtered through my boss’ own mental grids, his own take on the situation, or his recollection and recounting of the most pertinent details. He extended the opportunity to me to get hands-on and become both a witness and a contributor.
As leaders, we all have various areas of poverty (see Chapter 19: “Following ‘Poor’ Leaders“), and our followers’ potential for contribution will be drastically limited if our areas of lack ultimately inhibit their chance to see the situations and needs from any perspective but our own. We value our followers when we realize that we are not self-sufficient when it comes to excellence and instead create opportunities for them to bring the fullest and best of who they are to the front lines of the projects and relationships that are relevant to our team and organization.
It’s risky, to be sure. Inviting others in may lead to perceived weakness in your leadership, may require extra time and money (if they travel with you to a meeting or conference), may lead to jealousy within the ranks (others wondering why they weren’t picked for the apparent preferential treatment), but the benefit is there to be enjoyed. “A follower’s firsthand experience can help ensure that we make first-rate decisions the first time around” (Embracing Followership, Chapter 26).
That’s not just a benefit to the team or organization–leveraging the full gamut of talents, experience, and perspective that your followers have to offer–but it also fosters a greater sense of morale, with new opportunities to be involved in and the demonstration of a new level of trust leading to greater job satisfaction as well as opportunities to stretch and grow your followers in new ways.
Do you want excellent followers? Get them a seat at the table. Bring their ear to the conference call. Enable them to get their own eyes and hands on the things you’re facing and to offer their own perspective on the situation, identifying the needs, surfacing the issues, and partnering with you to to get the job done and see the organization succeed.
See also Leadership Lesson for Encouraging Excellent Followership #2: Establishing the Environment, Lesson #1: Displaying Dependence, and Lesson #4: Empowering & Promoting.
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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