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Do you know why following is necessary before leading?

, December 7, 2012, 1 Comments

If you want to become a great leader, you have to start by becoming a great follower. Each one of us in an organization should endeavor to become a true follower. Following is necessary before leading. Being a follower teaches you what it takes to make a great leader, helps you learn and moves you towards being a leader.

The dictionary[i] definition of a follower is a person who subscribes to another’s idea, imitates or copies, a servant or subordinate amongst other meanings, but here is a relevant quotation by the Reverend Paul Beedle about followership “

Followership is a discipline of supporting leaders and helping them to lead well. It is not submission, but the wise and good care of leaders, done out of a sense of gratitude for their willingness to take on the responsibilities of leadership, and a sense of hope and faith in their abilities and potential.”[ii]

Take a look at this enjoyable video on being a leader and follower that captures the essence of the relationship between leaders and followers. And come back…

A follower’s perspective:-
When you join a company you are assigned tasks, duties and a leader. Every employee reports to someone…A person starting his/her career reports to the line manager who reports to the department head. The department head reports to the CXO. This person from the C-Suite reports to the Board of Directors or the company Chairman who probably reports to the spouse!

If the leader inspires and motivates you, there is a willingness and desire to give your best and do the required and beyond, you support the leader and believe in their guidance to achieve the company’s objectives. You move from mere reporting to following, you “follow” the leader and this is followership as quoted by Reverend Beedle above.

Wherever you are in the hierarchy you are a follower with a possible aspiration to become the leader so it becomes necessary and important to practice ‘followership’.  You become a willing partner in the journey along with your leader and work alongside your colleagues.

According to Michael Hyatt[iii] there are five characteristics to being a great follower. Great followers are:-

1. Clear and understand their role: The followers know exactly where they fit in the hierarchy and embrace their position and the leader’s authority wholeheartedly. You may already be a leader but remember you have a boss too!

2. Obedient: Here, the premise is that, those who cannot obey orders should not give orders. Before you become a leader and give orders, you must be ready to accept orders and obey. This is not compliance but acting upon the information given by the boss.

3. Servants: Again, this does not mean being subservient to the leader but being observant and understand what a leader needs, to accomplish goals.

4. Humble: great followers make their leader look good in front of the leader’s boss

5. Loyal: great followers never bad mouth their boss in public. While disagreements are expected with their boss, this is not spoken of with others.

When I first read the above, my reaction was that being a follower meant being a sycophant or “chamcha” as they say in Hindi but a closer read proved me wrong. It is NOT about submitting but believing and doing what you have to do to get the job done.

The leaders are in a position for a very good reason and it is important to recognize that. Recognizing and learning from these leaders could help you understand what makes a great leader. And then, you are on your way!

What are you doing to be a great follower? Share your ideas…

About author
Aarti Iyer is a Sydneysider who originally hails from Mumbai, India. She has a Masters Degree in Human Resources Management from the University of Sydney,speaks fluent French and is currently working towards her doctorate in Leadership. She is passionate about writing and author of the book “The Story of a Girl, 60Seconds That Changed Life." Her family gives meaning to her life and when not writing or studying; she enjoys travelling and spending time with her husband and young daughter. Aarti shares her experiences in her weblog FlyingBubbles. ...more