Follow to Lead
Follow to Lead
Everybody wants to be a great leader, but not everyone will have the opportunity. One way to become a great leader is to be a great follower. Leaders that recognize the different follower types and characteristics can transform good followers into great ones. This article looks into those different follower types and characteristics exhibited by great followers. Developing today's followers will create tomorrow's leaders and will successfully project the organization into the future.
What is followership?
Merriam-Webster defines followership as the capacity or willingness to follow a leader. This capacity or ability of the follower is what will determine the effectiveness and success of a leader and the organization. Therefore, it is in the best interest of a leader and the organization to develop their followers. To ensure the success of everyone involved, leaders need to cultivate a symbiotic relationship between themselves and their followers. This requires a leader to know the follower type of his or her followers.
Robert E. Kelley defined five types of followers: alienated follower, conformist, pragmatic survivor, passive follower, and effective follower.
- An alienated follower is a person in the organization who is passive yet independent, critical thinker. Often they are effective followers who have experienced setbacks and obstacles. They focus exclusively on the shortcomings of the organization and other people.
- A conformist is a follower who is an active participant but does not utilize critical thinking skills in task behavior. He or she carries out any and all orders regardless of the nature of the tasks, participating willingly but without considering the consequences. They're only concern is to avoid conflict.
- A pragmatic survivor is one who has qualities of all four extremes, which quality comes to the forefront depends on which style fits with the prevalent situation. This follower uses whatever style best benefits a personal position and minimizes risk. Emerge when the organization faces desperate times, and do whatever is needed to get themselves through the difficulty.
- A passive follower is one who exhibits neither critical, independent thinking nor active participation. Being passive and uncritical, this type of follower displays neither initiative nor a sense of responsibility. He or she leaves the thinking to their leaders. Having this type of follower is often the result of leaders who are over controlling and punish mistakes.
- An effective follower is one who is both a critical, independent thinker and active in the organization. He or she behaves the same toward everyone, regardless of their position. They do not try to avoid risk or conflict but they initiate change and put themselves at risk to serve the best interest of the organization. They are characterized by both mindfulness and a willingness to act.
Once the type is identified, an effective leader will be able to tailor their leadership style to meet the needs of each of their followers.
Importance of Followership
Approximately 80-90 percent of an organization is made up of followers who create about 75-90 percent of its accomplishments. Followers are also the knowledge generators and problem solvers of the organization. Followers get the job done.
Future leaders are developed within the organization from great followers. The ability to show he or she is a great follower will make it easier for upper management to promote to a leadership position. Followers that are promoted from within will ensure the corporate culture is passed into the future. Workers also transition from follower to leader more seamlessly than recruiting an outside leader.
Great Follower Characteristics
Latour and Rast posit effective followers are "individuals with high organizational commitment who are able to function well in a change-oriented team environment" and "are independent, critical thinkers with highly developed integrity and competency" that "exhibit loyalty to the boss by endorsing organizational vision and priorities". Kelley defined two follower competencies: performance initiative and relationship initiative.
Performance initiative, a commitment to the highest levels of effort, includes the following:
- Working (effectively) with others. Followers balance personal interests with the interests of others and discover a common purpose. They coach, lead, mentor, and collaborate to accomplish the mission.
- Embracing change. Followers are committed to constant improvement, reduction of all types of waste, and leading by example. They are change agents.
- Doing the job (competence). Followers know what's expected, strive to be the best, and derive satisfaction from applying the highest personal standards. To them, work is integral to life.
- Seeing one's self as a resource (appreciating one's skills). Followers understand their value to the organization and care for themselves as assets/investments.
Relationship initiative, which acknowledges that followers share the responsibility with leaders for an effective relationship and work to increase openness and understanding to increase perspective around informed choices, includes the following:
- Building trust (core values; their word is their bond). Followers invite honest feedback and share plans and doubts. They are reliable and earn their leader's confidence.
- Communicating courageously (honest, timely feedback). Followers tell unpleasant truths to serve the organization. They seek the same from others and risk self-exposure.
- Identifying with the leader. Followers are loyal to their "partner in success" and take satisfaction in the leader's success.
- Adopting the leader's vision (seeing the big picture from the boss's perspective). Followers know the limits of personal perspective and actively seek others' perspectives for greater team effectiveness. They have a clear understanding of priorities. (Latour and Rast).
Effective leaders should be able to identify each of these characteristics in their followers. Not only should they be able to identify each characteristic, but they should be able to build upon any deficient area. Leaders can build these qualities by mentoring and leading by example. This allows for expectations to be made clear from leader to follower.
Followership is an understudied topic that has a direct correlation to the success of an organization. Leaders must determine each workers follower type to be able to adjust his or her leadership style to most effectively utilize and develop their followers. Recognizing and cultivating a follower's characteristics creates an environment of success for everyone. Not every leader is great, but every great leader was a great follower.
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