Every year, thousands of books and articles are published about leadership, but the truth is that most of us are followers more than we are leaders. Of all the people you encounter each day, consider the work they do. Are they leading or are they following? Do they envision, inspire, and mobilize? Or do they take direction, act, and wait for feedback?
I do understand that good followership is also an act of leading. I appreciate and teach that principle. In daily work, though, most of us are focused on getting the job done, staying under the radar, and doing what we need for a good performance review. If you are NOT one of these people, then you need to pay attention to this article, because it IS how many of your coworkers and followers think.
Try this thought experiment with me: Mentally transport yourself to a shopping center and take a seat on a bench where you can watch people walk by. These are regular Americans: Most have jobs (although not enough right now). They have a daily routine that cycles through some pattern of personal time, work time, and family time. They have bills to pay and almost half of them go to some place of worship. Most have kids and most are married or have been married. They are a lot like you.
Question 1: For these regular folks who have jobs, how many of them do work that involves taking and following the direction of others? All of them. (Even the business owners and entrepreneurs take direction from others at one point or another every day.)
Question 2: For these regular folks who have jobs, how many of them do work in which their primary responsibility is to provide direction for others? A much smaller group. Therein lies my frustration.
I, along with every book publisher and every institution of higher education and most consultants and bloggers, am guilty of saying for too much about leading to the much smaller audience. There is a much larger crowd of followers that is just as needy for direction and growth, but for some reason we’ve been ignoring this group far too long.
As a result, I am going to challenge myself to address followers much more in my writing, consulting, and teaching. (I’m making that commitment without yet knowing how I will go about pulling that off. Frankly, I’m a bit nervous typing this.)
I begin here and now with a three point charge to followers.
Charge 1 to Followers:
Go through the work to figure out who you are! Our workforce is full of people who have not identified their innate strengths and talents. As a result, they have not tapped the true potential of what they have to offer their employer. Both God and science are behind me on this one. You were created with great abilities. If you can identify and learn to use them, you will find great joy and satisfaction in your work. Ask yourself, “Does my work drain me or energize me?” The answer will tell you whether you have tapped your God-given abilities.
Charge 2 to Followers:
Ask tough questions! If something doesn’t look right, look into it. (Be smart about it, though. Be careful not to walk into an organizational minefield. Also, pay attention to the personality types involved.) Very often there are reasons (not always good) for why things are done a certain way and you will learn something as you ask questions. Very often, though, your questions will lead to discoveries that yield better solutions. As a follower, you have a valuable perspective.
Charge 3 to Followers:
Take initiative! Get off your can, or climb out of your rut, and go do something about what you see is wrong. If you see an opportunity, pursue it. If you have a solution, fix it. If someone needs a hand, offer it. If you have a dream, build it. Followers often make the mistake of saying, “Me? I don’t really have any influence over that. I can’t possibly make a difference.” Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. As it relates to people working together, the ripple effect of one small action can change the tide of oceans. Go do something.
Followers do make a difference. There can be no leaders without followers. That does not mean followers should hold leaders hostage in some emotional or physical act of, “Hey! You wouldn’t be there without us.” What it means is that it is just as much (or more) the hard work of followers that make our organizations strong as it is the leaders’ vision and drive.
Followers need to get in the game and play hard. Take your role and your work seriously and realize the impact you can make. You’ll be acting as a leader in the process, but all good leaders are better followers!