I just typed “leadership book” in the search bar on Amazon. I see there are at least 60,000 books I could purchase on this subject. I then just typed “follower book” and then “followership book”. Just over 10,000 results. Are you surprised? I’m not.
Here in the U.S., our culture places leaders on the pedestal. We flock to hear great leaders speak. Some of us purchase book after book to read what great leaders write. Podcasts abound from great leaders.
But what about being a great follower? Doesn’t that count for something? Shouldn’t it count? After all, every leader started as a follower.
“I bet we’d agree even the best leaders accomplish nothing without effective followers. If we agree followers are essential, why do so many people take being called a good follower as a criticism rather than as a compliment?” from Old School is Good School by Chief Master Sergeant Kevin Slater (U.S. Air Force).
A while ago, I was thinking about what it means to be a great follower. I have followed some great leaders. Cam taught me that there is always a way, an option, a solution – no matter what. That mindset has helped me more times in my life than I can count. From smuggling letters out of the former Soviet Union to helping my daughter with her history homework, I personally know that there is always a solution to big issues.
Chuck taught me that I can do anything I put my mind and my heart to. He gave me a shot in his company. I had zero experience, but he saw the potential. I learned and failed and kept on learning. I eventually took the job I had been given, whittled it from 40 hours/week to around 25-30 hours/week. I then was tasked to train my replacement who was given more responsibilities to fill that gap. Me? Oh, I was promoted to a management position.
Wayne taught me that anyone can conduct music. But a true conductor will get the most out of his musicians when he clearly communicates to pull from them their very best. I learned that it’s fun being a musician. But being a conductor allows you to create a musical experience and help others discover the beauty hidden beneath the notes and rests on the page.
None of these leaders coddled me in my developmental process. Far from it. They took me through what I now call the T.L.C. of being a great follower:
Think – Followers need to think, trouble-shoot, and solve problems. Most of the time, they are the closest to the action. You may not always get a “vote” in what goes on, but you certainly have a voice. Followers influence leaders!
Learn – Followers must learn new skills, learn how to communicate better with their teammates, learn what they are passionate about, and learn how their personal strengths add value to the team
Contribute – Followers must be active participants in their team’s/company’s success. There is no place for sideline observers on a winning team. Always look for ways to add value.
The leaders I named above expected this of me all the time. I’m glad they did. What I learned when I applied T.L.C. to my followership paved the path to my taking on leadership roles. I am forever grateful to these and other leaders who took me down this road.
Are you a follower? Great! Apply some T.L.C. to your journey. Who knows, perhaps you will soon be helping a follower under your leadership!