The Art of Followership: Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed the importance of followership — as distinct from but related to leadership.  Reduced staffing and the increasing complexity of organizational problems mean that good followers are all the more critical in today’s workplace. The question remains: what makes a good follower?  Researching this topic, I found some fascinating prescriptions.

One  favorite is “The Ten Rules of Good Followership” by Air Force Colonel Phillip S. Meilinger.  It’s not long and is well worth reading in full.  A quick summary of several of his rules:

  • “Don’t blame your boss for an unpopular decision or policy; your job is to support, not undermine.”  This one is huge.  It may seem inapplicable to non-military settings and perhaps to some extent it is.  But the basic principle – respect the boss’s position and help the boss succeed – is applicable in all workplace settings.  In my experience, managers are too often demonized and belittled, rather than supported.
  • “Fight with your boss if necessary; but do it in private, avoid embarrassing situations, and never reveal to others what was discussed.”  This is a corollary to the first point: the good follower is not a “yes-man” but speaks his or her mind honestly and frankly, just not in a challenging way at the weekly staff meeting.
  • “Make the decision, then run it past the boss; use your initiative.”  This, the author says, is the antidote for micromanagement.  Managers will be far less likely to micromanage if subordinates take some initiative in solving problems.
  • “Accept responsibility whenever it is offered.”  In other words, be a volunteer and risk taker — not the person who says, “That’s not my job.”
  • “Do your homework: give your boss all the information needed to make a decision; anticipate possible questions.”  As noted in the article, if done well, this often leads to the follower being the one who actually makes the decision.
  • “If you see a problem, fix it. Don’t worry about who would have gotten the blame or who now gets the praise.”  Trust in good karma!

Another brief article, “Leading Your Boss” by Michael Useem in The Economic Times, says this about followership:

“Done well … managing the boss becomes an essential platform for then leading the boss. Once the chief knows that a manager brings judgment and gets results, the way is clear for the manager to help lead the chief.  … Above all, upward leadership requires the conscious subordination of personal gain to organizational purpose.”

A third article, much longer but valuable, is entitled, “Dynamic Followership: the Prerequisite for Effective Leadership.”  It lists a number of other characteristics of the good follower, including that he or she:

  • works effectively with others
  • embraces change
  • is competent
  • sees him or herself as a resource
  • communicates courageously
  • “partners in success” with the leader and follows the leader’s vision
  • builds trust with others

Being a good follower is not easy, nor does it necessarily bring glory. If everyone sought to exercise the above traits, however, wouldn’t the workplace be A LOT  better?  ~Amy Stephson

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