Leadership Flows from Followership

How good a leader are you? More importantly, how good a follower are you? And most importantly, have you ever thought about the connection between the two?

We spend billions of dollars and thousands upon thousands of hours each year teaching and learning how to lead. But we spend comparatively little time teaching and learning how to follow. Despite this disproportionate focus, none of us leads all the time, and most of us in fact will spend far more of our time following someone else’s lead. To succeed in the 21st century business world, a world built entirely upon teams, we need to know how to function well within a group.

Leadership training is focused on teaching how to speak with authority, direct the team, motivate others, exude a leadership presence, etc, etc, etc. All of those things are important, and my colleagues and I teach those things all the time.

But how much time have you spent learning how to listen? Learning how to follow? Learning how to be a good teammate? In fact, “following” is sometimes a bad word in the 21st century business world. Describing someone as “a follower” is often code for many things, few of them good.

And yet most of us will spend the vast majority of our time on the team, rather than leading the team. If we are going to succeed, and if our teams are going to succeed, we need to know how conduct ourselves when we are not in charge.

Here are a few specific techniques that will make you a better, more productive member of the team:

Learn How to Listen. We could write a few thousand words on this topic alone… and we have. But the primary point is that we need to care about listening to others. Put the phone down. Stop checking your email. Take notes. Repeat back what you hear. Make a point of listening closely to what others say.

Find and Embrace Your Role. There are many ways to contribute to a successful team, and every good teammate will look for ways to add unique value. Sometimes your role will be given to you. Sometimes you have to uncover your role for yourself. But you need to know what that role will be, and then you need to embrace that role. Find something that the team sorely needs, and that you can do well, and then do it exceptionally well.

Disagree Internally, Support Externally. Have an opinion, express it respectfully, and if you disagree with the path, don’t be afraid to say so. But once the decision is made, get on board and do everything you can to help the team succeed. Don’t campaign for change. Don’t run for a promotion. Do your job well, and keep your disagreement in-house.

Cheer for the Success of Others. When you support others who are leading, you make it more likely that they will cheer for you when it is your turn to lead.

Being a great teammate is about having your ego in check, first and foremost. If you need to be out front, need to lead the meeting, need to speak up all the time, you will probably have a hard time following someone else’s lead, and will probably end up being a mediocre teammate at best. But if you can keep those “needs” in check and can learn to be a great teammate, you will have the opportunity to add significant value, and you will greatly enhance your brand. People want to partner with great teammates. And, ironically, if you develop your followership skills, you will also be developing your leadership skills, by creating a network of people who will be happy to follow you when it is your turn to step forward.

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.