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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 May 7, 2021

Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

I have been an early-riser for over a year now. Monday through Friday I wake up at 5:00 AM without hitting the snooze button even once. I never take naps and rarely feel tired throughout the day. The following is my advice on how to start your day (everyday) at 5:00 AM.The idea of waking up early and starting the day at or before the sunrise is the desire of many people. Many highly successful people attribute their success, at least in part, to rising early. Early-risers have more productive mornings, get more done, and report less stress on average than “late-risers.” However, for the unaccustomed, the task of waking up at 5:00 AM can seem extremely daunting. This article will present five tips about how to physically wake up at 5:00 AM and how to get yourself mentally ready to have a productive day.

Many people simply “can’t” get up early because they are stuck in a routine. Whether this is getting to bed unnecessarily late, snoozing repetitively, or waiting until the absolute last possible moment before getting out of bed, “sleeping in” can easily consume your entire morning. The following tips will let you break the “sleeping in” routine.

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Relocate your alarm clock.

Having an alarm clock too close to your bed is the number one reason people simply cannot get up in the morning. If your alarm clock is within arms reach of your bed, or if you can turn your alarm clock off without getting out of bed, you are creating an unnecessarily difficult situation for yourself. Before I became an early-riser, there were many times that I would turn off my alarm without even waking up enough to remember turning it off. I recommend moving your alarm clock far enough away from your bed that you have to get completely out of bed to turn it off. I keep my alarm clock in the bathroom. This may not be possible for all living arrangements, however, I use my cellphone as an alarm clock and putting it in the bathroom makes perfect sense. In order to turn off my alarm I have to get completely out of bed, and since going to the restroom and taking a shower are the first two things I do everyday, keeping the alarm clock in the bathroom streamlines the start of my morning.

Scrap the snooze.

The snooze feature on all modern alarm clocks serves absolutely no constructive purpose. Don’t even try the “it helps me slowly wake up” lie. I recommend buying an alarm that does not have a snooze button. If you can’t find an alarm without a snooze button, never read the instructions so you will never know how long your snooze button lasts. Not knowing whether it waits 10 minutes or 60 minutes should be enough of a deterrent to get you to stop using it.

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Change up your buzzer

If you use the same buzzer day in and day out, you begin to develop a tolerance to the sound. The alarm clock will slowly become less effective at waking you up over time. Most newer alarm clocks will let you set a different buzzer tone for the different days of the week. If you change your buzzer frequently, you will have an easier time waking up.

Make a puzzle

If you absolutely cannot wake up without repetitive snoozing, try making a puzzle for yourself. It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that the longer your alarm is going off, the more awake you will become. Try making your alarm very difficult to turn off by putting it under the sink, putting it under the bed, or better yet, by forcing yourself to complete a puzzle to turn it off. Try putting your alarm into a combination-locked box and make yourself put in the combination in order to turn off the alarm — it’s annoying, but extremely effective!

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Get into a routine

Getting up at 5:00 AM is much easier if you are doing it Monday through Friday rather than sporadically during the week. I recommend setting an alarm once that repeats everyday. Also, going to bed at about the same time every night is an important factor to having a productive morning. Learn how much sleep you need to get in order to not feel exhausted the following day. Some people can get by on 4-6 hours while most need 7-8.

Have a reason

Make sure you have a specific reason to get up in the morning. Getting up at 5:00 AM just for the heck of it is a lot more difficult than if you are getting up early to plan your day, pay bills, go for a jog, get an early start on work, etc. I recommend finding something you want to do for yourself in the morning. It will be a lot easier to get up if you are guaranteed to do something fun for yourself — compare this to going on vacation. You probably have no problem waking up very early on vacation or during holidays. My goal every morning is to bring that excitement to the day by doing something fun for myself.

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As I previously mentioned, I have been using these tips for a very long time. Joining the world of early-risers has been a great decision. I feel less stressed, I get more done, and I feel happier than I did when I was a late-riser. If you follow these tips you can become an early-riser, too. Do you have any tips that I didn’t mention? What works best for you? Let us know in the comments.

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