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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 November 12, 2020

15 Reasons Why You Can’t Achieve Your Goals

15 Reasons Why You Can’t Achieve Your Goals

The truth about many of our failed goals is that we haven’t achieved them because we didn’t know how to set and accomplish goals effectively, rather than having not had enough willpower, determination, or fortitude. There are strings of mistakes standing in our way of accomplished goals. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to fall victim to these mistakes for 2015. There are many common mistakes we make with setting goals, but there are also surefire ways to fix them too.

Goal Setting

1. You make your goals too vague.

Instead of having a vague goal of “going to the gym,” make your goals specific—something like, “run a mile around the indoor track each morning.”

2. You have no way of knowing where you are with your goals.

It’s hard to recognize where you are at reaching your goal if you have no way of measuring where you are with it. Instead, make your goal measurable with questions such as, “how much?” or “how many?” This way, you always know where you stand with your goals.

3. You make your goals impossible to reach.

If it’s impossible of reaching, you’re simply not going to reach for it. Sometimes, our past behavior can predict our future behavior, which means if you have no sign of changing a behavior within a week, don’t set a goal that wants to accomplish that. While you can do many things you set your mind to, it’ll be much easier if you realize your capabilities, and judge your goals from there.

4. You only list your long-term goals.

Long-term goals tend to fizzle out because we’re stuck on the larger view rather than what we need to accomplish in the here and now to get there. Instead, list out all the short-term goals involved with your long-term goal. For instance, if you want to seek a publisher for a book you’ve written, your short-term goals might involve your marketing your writing and writing for more magazines in order to accomplished your goal of publishing. By listing out the short-term goals involved with your long-term goal, you’ll focus more on doing what’s in front of you.

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5. You write your goals as negative statements.

It’s hard to reach a goal that’s worded as, “don’t fall into this stupid trap.” That’s not inspiring, and when you’re first starting out, you need inspiration to stay committed to your goal. Instead, make your goals positive statements, such as, “Be a friend who says yes more” rather than, “Stop being an idiot to your friends.”

6. You leave your goals in your head.

Don’t keep your goals stuck in your head. Write them down somewhere and keep them visible. It’s a way making your goals real and holding yourself accountable for achieving them.

Achieving Goals

7. You only focus on achieving one goal at a time, and you struggle each time.

In order to keep achieving your goals, one right after the others, you need to build the healthy habits to do so. For instance, if you want to write a book, developing a habit of writing each morning. If you want to lose weight and eventually run a marathon, develop a habit of running each morning. Focus on buildign habits, and your other goals in the future will come easier.

Studies show that it takes about 66 days on average to change or develop a habit.[1] If you focus on forming one habit every 66 days, that’ll get you closer to accomplishing your goals, and you’ll also build the capability to achieve more and more goals later on with the help of your newly formed habits.

8. You live in an environment that doesn’t support your goals.

Gary Keller and Jay Papasan in their book, The One Thing, state that environments are made up of people and places. They state that these two factors must line up to support your goals. Otherwise, they would cause friction to your goals. So make sure the people who surround you and your location both add something to your goals rather than take away from them.

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9. You get stuck on the end result with your goals.

James Clear brilliantly suggests that our focus should be on the systems we implement to reach our goals rather than the actual end result. For instance, if you’re trying to be healthier with your diet, focus more on sticking to your diet plan rather than on your desired end result. It’ll keep you more concentrated on what’s right in front of you rather than what’s up in the sky.

Keeping Motivated

10. You get discouraged with your mess-ups.

When I wake up each morning, I focus all my effort in building a small-win for myself. Why? Because we need confidence and momentum if we want to keep plowing through the obstacles of accomplishing our goals. Starting my day with small wins helps me forget what mess-ups I had yesterday, and be able to reset.

Your win can be as small as getting out of bed to writing a paragraph in your book. Whatever the case may be, highlight the victories when they come along, and don’t pay much attention to whatever mess-ups happened yesterday.

11. You downplay your wins.

When a win comes along, don’t downplay it or be too humble about it. Instead, make it a big deal. Celebrate each time you get closer to your goal with either a party or quality time doing what you love.

12. You get discouraged by all the work you have to do for your goals.

What happens when you focus on everything that’s in front of you is that you can lose sight of the big picture—what you’re actually doing this for and why you want to achieve it. By learning how to filter the big picture through your every day small goals, you’ll be able to keep your motivation for the long haul. Never let go of the big picture.

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13. You waste your downtime.

When I take a break, I usually fill my downtime with activities that further me toward my goals. For instance, I listen to podcasts about writing or entrepreneurship during my lunch times. This keeps my mind focused on the goal, and also utilizes my downtime with motivation to keep trying for my goals.

Wondering what you can do during your downtime? Here’re 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time.

14. You have no system of accountability.

If you announce your goal publicly, or promise to offer something to people, those people suddenly depend on your accomplishment. They are suddenly concerned for your goals, and help make sure you achieve them. Don’t see this as a burden. Instead, use it to fuel your hard work. Have people depend on you and you’ll be motivated to not let them down.

15. You fall victim to all your negative behaviors you’re trying to avoid with your goals.

Instead of making a “to-do” list, make a list of all the behaviors, patterns, and thinking you need to avoid if you ever want to reach your goal. For instance, you might want to chart down, “avoid Netflix” or “don’t think negatively about my capability.” By doing this, you’ll have a visible reminder of all the behavior you need to avoid in order to accomplish your goals. But make sure you balance this list out with your goals listed as positive statements.

How To Stop Failing Your Goal?

If you want to stop failing your goal and finally reach it, don’t miss these actionable tips explained by Jade in this episode of The Lifehack Show:

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Bottom Line

Overcoming our mistakes is the first step to building healthy systems for our goals. If you find one of these cogs jamming the gears to your goal-setting system, I hope you follow these solutions to keep your system healthy and able to churn out more goals.

Make this year where you finally achieve what you’ve only dreamed of.

More Goal Getting Tips

Featured photo credit: NORTHFOLK via unsplash.com

Reference

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