No One Leads All the Time: Seven Characteristics of Good Followership

At The Latimer Group, we often say, “no one leads all the time.” And today, we would like to dig into that a little bit more.

Take a look at the image above. The yellow figure is usually the one that gets all the attention, much of the acclaim when things are going well. Many of us (dare I say “most”) want to be the yellow figure, the rider out front of the peloton, the one in the yellow jersey. But even those of us who do become the lead rider, none of us… not one… is always wearing the yellow jersey. Most of the time, we are one of the figures in gray. Which means that in order to be a good teammate, a good contributor to the team’s overall success, we need to know how to lead, so we are ready when the yellow jersey calls for us. But we all also need to know how to be a good follower, because those days will come as well. And there will be a lot more of those kind of days.

Followership isn’t always fun; it’s rarely sexy. The credit often goes to the person in the lead. But good followership can have its own rewards since the best teams celebrate the successes of the whole group, and share credit liberally and inclusively.

What makes a good follower? It’s not that complicated. The concepts are simple to understand but often complicated to execute. Why? Because a little something called “the ego” gets in the way.

But if we can manage the ego; embrace the fact that there is value to ourselves, our teammates, and our leaders; and be good teammates and followers; then we have a chance to do something great. So with all of this in mind, here are a few practices that will make you a great teammate and follower:

  1. Be part of the process. Strong followers are not just along for the ride. They contribute to the process. Strong leaders seek the input of others in their organization, and strong followers seek to contribute whenever possible and appropriate.
  2. Be open to ideas other than your own. Strong followers give input and contribute, but they also realize that good ideas can come from others, too. Listen to what others have to say. Listen with your ears and your mind. You don’t have the market cornered on good ideas.
  3. Disagree internally, support externally. Strong followers on good teams have a responsibility to raise their hand and speak up when they disagree with something. But strong followers always share that disagreement respectfully, logically, and internally within the team. Once a decision is made final, the strong follower supports it and does everything they can to make it work. Strong followers speak up and then “get on the bus” once the decision is made.
  4. Celebrate others, AND carry your own weight. Strong followers enjoy and celebrate the successes of their teammates. Strong followers cheer for the people around them and love to see their teams succeed. The strong follower, just like the strong leader, thinks and speaks of “we” and rarely of “I.” But while being a strong cheerleader is important, you must also make sure you are carrying your own weight. Everyone loves to have a positive cheerleader on the team. But eventually, if that cheerleader does not actively contribute to the team’s success, the cheering starts to ring hollow.
  5. Realize that you might not have all the information. Leaders often, dare I say almost always, have a more complete set of information or data that not everyone on the team will see. So, if you see something happening that you don’t like, or a decision is made that you don’t agree with, perhaps take a moment to pause and remind yourself that there are almost certainly other factors that you did not know about. Sure, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But in order to be a good teammate, don’t forget to remind yourself that you might not have all the facts when you are forming your opinion.
  6. Don’t run for office. Strong followers do lots of things that may eventually make them a candidate for a leadership position. But strong followers don’t actively campaign to replace the current leadership. Strong followers do their job well, and they are ready when the time comes to step forward and assume a more prominent role on the team. But active campaigning often has a toxic effect.
  7. Keep the “dirty laundry” within the team. This point is similar to #3, but is still worth a separate mention. Strong followers don’t publicly criticize a teammate or team leadership. They keep their issues within the team. Weak teams don’t.

And then the final point is this… if you do your best to be a good teammate, and you are just not comfortable with either your role on the team, or the direction the team is headed, then you have the agency to step away. No hard feelings. But if you are committed to your team, and want to be a positive member of that team, then remember that you need to know how to lead. But you also need to know how to follow. Both matter.

Good luck.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.