What is the ultimate aim of your leadership? There are a variety of tasks that fit under the classic definitions of leadership–making decisions, exerting influence, improving efficiency, increasing profits–but none of these capture what I believe to be at the heart of excellent leadership.
Excellent leadership fosters excellent followership. Within an organization, some people are given leadership roles–the majority of members do not have such titles and scope of responsibility–and the primary reason for their position is to enhance the work of the people they oversee (or support). These individuals are taken off of tasks which may be thoughts of as ‘front-line’ work in order to shift the focus of their investment toward enhancing the contributions of their followers.
Certainly, that isn’t the way leadership actually plays out in many environments, but I believe that is the heart of truly excellent leadership.
So how does a leader excellently facilitate the excellent followership of his or her subordinates? We’ve looked previously at displaying dependence, establishing the environment, and inviting in. A fourth (and in some ways final) task is a leadership classic: empowering & promoting.
Empowering & Promoting. Being an empowering leader is one of the trendy concepts in modern leadership thinking. What does it mean to empower others? And what does it cost?
A leader empowering her followers means she is employing her power, authority, sphere of influence, network of relationships, and access to resources in order to enable her followers to do the best job they can do. It means sharing, putting into action, what is available to us as leaders and making it accessible and beneficial to those who are followers.
On some level, it’s really the whole purpose that we as leaders exist: being granted a broad view of the situation in order to deploy organizational resources for the maximum benefit of all involved.
It requires keeping our ear to the ground–knowing what’s going, what the current needs are, without crossing the line into micromanagement. It is fueled by the three other leadership lessons (mentioned above), as we engage in a communicative, collaborative, symbiotic partnership of leadership-followership.
One specific example of empowering is found in the concept of promoting. Promoting can work on two levels: sponsoring one of your subordinates for a specific project or temporary assignment, or granting someone a new permanent organizational position. Both of these are examples of exercising leadership in order to empower a follower: opening new connections, matching needs with skills, and ensuring that organizational structure supports (rather than hinders) the achievement of organizational aims.
Promoting well may require risk: speaking up on behalf of a relatively unknown subordinate, perhaps inviting them into a situation that would otherwise be ‘above their pay grade’. There may be jealousy in the ranks if others don’t understand the reasoning behind the promotion. There will be a departmental impact as someone is transitioned out of a current (ostensibly successful) role and moves into a new sphere of organizational influence and contribution.
But this notion of promotion is part of the lifeblood of an organic association: people–the nutrients of any organization–should be moved around in ways that promote the effective achievement of the communal aims, which serve to support the surviving and thriving of the group in its endeavors.
My own presentation of followership often emphasizes the importance of the trait of humility for one to be a good follower. Perhaps equally, leaders too must possess this characteristic if they are ever to take the step of releasing a subordinate and perhaps even advocating that they become a peer. As leaders, we have an essential responsibility to engage in relationship with our followers and to execute our leadership to foster excellent followership.
Now you know how.
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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