Followership: The Art of Knowing Whom to Follow

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Sep 12, 2016

For more than a decade now, the call from the workplace, government, and social settings has been for leaders to step forward. All hands on deck. Engage the rest of the troops to accomplish the mission. Either develop or demonstrate the expertise that leads to success. All well and good.

Here’s a new challenge:  Leading others to follow a different leader from time to time.

CEOs, entrepreneurs, and coaches run into this challenge quite frequently. When they’ve been in a position of authority for a long while, and for whatever reason turn the reins over to someone else to run their organization, they often find it difficult to get out of the way.

You’ll find them still hanging around the “sidelines” trying to call the plays, even doing some Monday morning quarter-backing. As a result: divided loyalties, mixed signals, confused players/workers, lower scores/profits.

And even if you don’t intend to exit as a leader, you can’t be an expert in everything while on the job. Those who follow you generally need to follow other leaders in other areas of their life. So here’s my checklist for followership.

Look for a values match

No matter what the leader claims to be able to do, my first question before lining up behind that person is this: “Do we have the same core values?” Unlike goals, values develop over a lifetime. They rarely change in adulthood.

Everything else in that leader’s life gets filtered through that “values” funnel: where they work, how they work, why they work, what they hope to achieve, how they treat employees, how they treat their family, how they treat customers, what kind of deals they make, what kind of deals they refuse to make, how they treat nature, what they believe about God, how they articulate and demonstrate their concept of integrity.

How do you discern these values? Read what they write. Hear what they say. Watch how they behave. Talk to people who know them well. Take your time to assess.

Verify results

Leaders help their followers to identify other leaders worth following.

 Young kids do this instinctively. Watch second-grade boys on a baseball field when the teacher selects Juan and Timmy as captains and tells them to “choose up sides.” Juan goes first. He selects the best batter. Timmy selects the next best batter. Juan’s turn again; he picks the third best player. These captains are no dummies.

But let those kids get a little older, say seventh grade, and have them choose their teammates. Juan may choose Mike, his best friend. Timmy may select Hu, who helps him with his homework.

The same thing happens in the workplace; “standards may vary.” People invest their money with a financial planner who’s heavily in debt. People pay a website developer to build a website when the developer’s own site loads in minutes rather than seconds. Consultants teach customer service when their own customer service is appalling.

But leaders look to follow those who can do what they say they can do. In short, before they follow someone, they want to see evidence of results. They also help their own followers remember to apply the “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich” principle before jumping aboard someone’s bandwagon.

Find footprints

Leaders look for other leaders that provide the hows, not just the whats. When you or your followers want to get up to speed on a new area of expertise or learn a new skill, just knowing what you should be doing is rarely helpful. Far more beneficial is finding specific guidelines that show you how to take action.

Followership: Consider carefully the leaders you plan to follow—and lead your followers to them.

For other insights visit the Booher Research Institute blog.
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