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Why It Is Wrong to Glorify a Leader and Belittle a Follower

Why It Is Wrong to Glorify a Leader and Belittle a Follower

Is it bad to be a follower? We spend most of our young lives learning about the power of peer pressure and avoiding being called “sheep.” There’s a pervasive notion that being good at following others is a negative trait. Shouldn’t we desire to be mold-breaking, paradigm-subverting powerhouses?

There’s no question that we need strong leaders. They drive collective visions and propel organizations to the next level with their desire for success. A 2015 Gallup report found that half the study participants who quit their jobs cited poor leadership as the primary motivator for leaving.[1] Could it be that we are giving our bosses too much credit for the way that we feel about the work day? Followers play a bigger role in our experiences than we may realize.

What’s a leader without followers?

Your organization could have talented leaders, but without buy-in from followership, their efforts will not have much impact. The school principal that wants to promote a culture of achievement can do little without a group of dedicated teachers who believe in that mission. Regardless of a teacher’s motivation, if students don’t understand why education is relevant to them, they won’t get much out of well-crafted lesson plans. Walt Disney was just a guy with an idea until he had people to help him live out his vision. Our favorite influencers on Youtube couldn’t make content without subscribers. Leaders don’t exist without followers.

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Do you need to be a leader?

We know that leaders derive much of their power from their ability to inspire their followership. Do we all have to aspire to that corner office? The truth is that there are many reasons that people do not want to be leaders, and it has nothing to do with a lack of talent. You might have the most amazing doctor, but that doesn’t mean that he or she wants to be the head of the hospital. Maybe your doctor really loves working with patients and loathes administrative duties. The best salesperson might be completely miserable as the director of the company.

The truth is, some of us have no urge to take up the mantle of upper-level management. Opting to be a follower doesn’t mean that you lack the power of independent thought or that you don’t care about what you are doing. A battlefield full of generals won’t see victory. We need people dictating a vision, but we need people to carry out that vision too. If you’ve ever been in a situation in which everyone is competing for authority, you know how uncomfortable and unproductive such a space can be.

Saying, “No” to leadership doesn’t mean that you lack ambition or talent. Choosing to remain a follower could signify that you are happy where you are. If you feel like you are making great impact, it is not necessary to vie for the highest position in your organization. Talented followers who believe in their work are essential to the success of any endeavor.

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Before anyone can lead, they learn how to follow.

While most MBA programs focus on developing leaders, spending some time operating as a follower is good for everyone.[2] How many times have we heard from disenfranchised teachers, who are forced to enact policies set out by people who have never been in front of a classroom? This type of complaint has been echoed across a number of industries. When leaders spend time understanding the position of followers, they do a better job.

Even though being a follower doesn’t seem glamorous, you won’t be an effective leader until you’ve built up your capacity to take on more responsibilities and take initiative while respecting an organization’s power structure. As a follower, you can gain insights into more efficient ways to carry out a given task. If you do choose to pursue leadership later, you’ll be armed with a set of soft skills centered around diplomacy and collaboration that will enable you to be a more inspiring and effective leader.[3]

Not all followers are created equally.

Scholars have devised many followership typologies in order to explain the interdependent nature of leadership and followership. Barbara Kellerman’s followership model, which focuses on engagement, offers insight into the best qualities for followers to possess.[4]

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Here are the categories of followers according to the model:

  1. Isolates. This type has no attachment to the leader or the rest of their team. They fade into the background, punch the clock, and perform the bare minimum in order to keep their jobs. They aren’t invested in the company, and they are content with the status quo.
  2. Bystanders. These people take notice of their environment, but they opt not to do anything to improve the situation.
  3. Participants. Followers who do make an investment of time or energy in order to enact change (positive or negative) are considered participants. Their level of engagement gives them the opportunity to strengthen organizations, but their input is generally low-risk.
  4. Activists. Like participants, they have a stake in the organization, but they are willing to be vocal about their likes and dislikes to a higher degree. Their commitment can be a double-edged sword; they are willing to act on their principles to either bring about success or dismantle systems that they deem to be unfair.
  5. Diehards. Followers who are willing to take on the most risk are diehards. They possess absolute loyalty to a leader or cause, and they are willing to make sacrifices in order to ensure the perpetuation of their ideals. Their motivation can be a boon to their organization, but they may also actively work to destroy unfair systems. Whistleblowers are classic examples of diehards in Kellerman’s model.

We need followers, more than we think.

Robert Kelley suggests,

“Instead of seeing the leadership role as superior to and more active than the role of the follower, we can think of them as equal but different activities.”[5]

The best followers possess many of the traits that we admire in strong leaders.[6] These followers are known to:

  • Take Initiative. Engaged followers are better than apathetic ones, even if they disagree with their leadership.
  • Act as a critical friends. Leaders and organizational structures that don’t get constructive feedback do not improve. Followers who do this think critically about what they are being asked to do, and they speak up for the sake of ethics and efficiency.
  • Work to add value. A lackadaisical approach to followership can get people to retirement, but isn’t it more rewarding to continue to hone one’s craft? Excellent followers make an effort to sharpen skills that will make them more productive and able to support their mission. They take pride in their work and are willing to invest time to improve the quality of their work.
  • Value collaboration. Today’s leadership structures necessitate more input from everyone. Great followers appreciate the process of working with others to create the best outcomes.

Followers are more than cogs in the organizational machine.

Far from being disposable, followers are essential to the success of any endeavor. A vision without backing is just a dream. A leader without the respect of the people he or she leads is not going to be successful. Behind every outstanding example of leadership is a motivated followership ready to commit to a high standard of excellence.

Reference

[1] The Wall Street Journal: What do workers want from the boss?
[2] Ivey Business Journal: Followership: The other side of leadership
[3] Fast Company: 5 ways being a good follower makes you a better leader
[4] Harvard Business Review: What Every Leader Needs to Know About Followers
[5] Harvard Business Review: In Praise of Followers
[6] Project Management Institute: In Praise of Followers

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Angelina Phebus

Writer, Yoga Instructor (RYT 200)

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

26 Useful Things to Learn Now That Will Change Your Life

26 Useful Things to Learn Now That Will Change Your Life

If you pay attention to your everyday life careful enough, you’ll know that you can learn from everything and everyone you come across. Our life is basically full of useful lessons that we should learn.

Here are 26 useful things to learn that Abhishek A. Singh shared on Quora. Let’s see how these life theories would lead you to live a different life.

1. Primacy and recency: People mostly remember the first and last things that occurred, barely the middle.

When scheduling an interview, ask the employer the time slots they do interviews and try to be the first or the last.

2. If you work in a bar or in customer service of any kind, put a mirror behind you at the counter.

In this way, angry customers who approach you will have to see themselves in the mirror behind you and the chance of them behaving irrationally will be lowered significantly.

3. Once you make a sales pitch, don’t say anything else.

This works in sales, but it can also be applied in other ways.

My previous boss was training me and just gave me pointers. I was working at a gym trying to sell memberships. He told me that once I got all the small talk out of the way and presented the prices, the first person to talk would lose.

It didn’t seem like a big deal but it actually worked. Often there were long periods of awkward silence as the person tried to come up with some excuses, but usually they bought.

4. If you ask someone a question and they only partially answer, just wait.

If you stay silent and keep eye contact, they will usually continue to talk.

5. Chew gum when you’re approaching a situation that would make you nervous, like public speaking or bungee jumping.

When we eat, our brain tell ourselves, “I would not be eating if I were danger. So I’m not in danger.” This has helped me to stay calm.

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6. People will always remember how you made them feel, not what you said.

Also, most people like talking about themselves; so ask lots of questions about them.

7. When you’re learning something new, teach it to a friend. Let them ask you questions about it.

If you’re able to teach something well, you will be sure that you’ve understood it very well.

8. If you get yourself to be really happy and excited to see other people, they will react the same to you.

It doesn’t always happen the first time, but it will definitely happen the next time.

9. The physical effects of stress — breathing rate and heart rate — are almost identical to the physical effects of courage.

When you’re feeling stressed in any situations, immediately reframe it : Your body is getting ready to be courageous, you are NOT stressed.

10. Pay attention to people’s feet.

If you approach two people in the middle of a conversation, and they only turn their torsos and not their feet, they don’t want you to join in the conversation.

Similarly, if you are in a conversation with a coworker who you think is paying attention to you and their torso is turned towards you but their feet are facing in another direction, they want the conversation to end.

11. Confidence is more important than knowledge.

Don’t be intimidated by anyone, everyone is playing a role and wearing a mask.

12. If you pretend to be something for long enough, you will eventually become it.

Fake it till you make it. Period.

13. Not to be creepy, but if you want to stare at someone unashamedly, look directly past them and wait for them to try and meet your eyes.

When they fail to do that, they’ll look around (usually nervously for a second) they won’t look at you again for some time. This is your chance to straight up stare at this person for at least 45 seconds.

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And as suggested by Brian Stutzman:

If you’re staring at someone and get caught, DON’T turn your head or your body to look away, because that just confirms that you were staring.

Just move your EYEBALLS off the person. Unlike turning your head, it’s instantaneous. And the person will think you were just looking at something behind them and that they were mistaken for thinking you were staring. Do it confidently, and ignore any reaction from the person, and you can sell it every single time.

After a second, you can even look back at them with a “Why are you staring at me?” look on your face to really cement the deal!

14. Build a network.

Become the information source, and let the information be yours. Even grabbing a beer with a former colleague once a year will keep you in the loop at the old office.

Former coworkers might have gotten a new position in that office you always wanted to work in, great! Go to them for a beer, and ask about the office. It’s all about connections and information.

15. If you are angry at the person in front of you driving like a grandmother…

Pretend it is your grandmother, it will significantly reduce your road rage.

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    16. Stand up straight.

    No slouching, hands out of pockets, and head held up high. It’s not just a cliche — you literally feel better and people around you feel more confident in you.

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    17. Avoid saying “I think,” and “I believe” unless absolutely necessary.

    These are phrases that do not evoke confidence, and will literally do you no good.

    18. When feeling anxious, clean up your home or work space.

    You will feel happier and more accomplished than before.

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      19. Always buy the first pitcher or round of drinks.

      You’d be surprised how long you could drink on the phrase “I bought the first one.”

      20. Going into an interview… be interested in your interviewers.

      If you focus on learning about them, you’ll seem to be more interesting and dynamic. (Again, people love to talk about themselves.)

      21. Pay attention parents! Always give your kid a choice that makes them think they are in control.

      For instance, when I want my son to put his shoes on I will say ,”do you want to put your star wars shoes on or your shark shoes on?”

      Pro-tip: In some cases, this works on adults.

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        22. Your action affects your attitude more than your attitude affects your action.

        As my former teacher said “You can jump and dance FOR joy, but you can also jump and dance yourself joyful.”

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        23. When a group of people laugh, people will instinctively look at the person they feel closest to in that group.

        Notice who you look at and who look at you when you laugh with a group of people!

        24. If you want to build rapport or gain someone’s trust quickly, match their body posture and position.

        If someone is sitting with her legs crossed, cross your legs. If they’re leaning away from you, lean away from them. If they’re leaning towards you, lean towards them.

        Mirroring and matching body position is a subconscious way to tell if someone trusts you or is comfortable with you. If you’re sitting with your arms crossed and you notice someone else is sitting with her arms crossed, that is a good indicator that you have/are successfully built/building rapport with that person.

        25. The Benjamin Franklin Effect (suggested by Matt Miller)

        I find the basis of the Benjamin Franklin effect is very useful and extends far beyond pencil borrowing. This knowledge is useful in the world of flirting too.

        Asking a girl in your class if you can borrow a pencil or her notes or to explain the homework will make her more likely to like you than if you let her borrow your stuff or are the one to help her. Even just asking a girl to buy you drinks (facetiously) leaves a much bigger impression than offering to or actually buying a girl a drink.

        The best part is it kills 3 birds with one stone: you get the advantages of the favor itself, the person subconsciously likes you more, and it makes them more open to future favors and conversation.

        26. Handle panic and anxiety behaviors by tapping fingers (Suggested by Jade Barbee)

        When you’re feeling stressed, worried or angry, tap each finger tip while thinking (or speaking quietly) a few specific words about what is bothering you. Repeat the same words while tapping each of your 10 fingers, including thumbs.

        For example, tap while saying, “I’m so angry with her…” Doing so will likely take the charge out of the feeling and return you to a more resourceful (better feeling) state of being. It’s called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or “tapping,” and it is useful in many life situations – emotional sadness, physical pain, food cravings, traumatic memories…

        Featured photo credit: Nicole Wolf via unsplash.com

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