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Monday, 27 August 2012

So You Are a Leader! Do You Know How to be a Follower?

We talk a great deal about leadership but it seems that there is also a strong case for looking at followership.  It is self evident that a leader needs followers but do we sufficiently take account of their wants and needs?

Following a recent blog I had a note from a good friend who sent me this very wise saying:

·      “If you walk in front of me, I might not follow.  If you walk behind me, I might not know the way.  If you walk beside me, we will be able to encourage and support each other; arriving together at our destination.”  (Thank you, Harold)

Countless books, articles and blogs have been written about the whole concept of leadership covering just about every aspect but there has been very little literature (that I can find, admittedly) about what it takes to be a great follower.

It has become a truism in business that one should never promote your best salesman to be sales manager; it is equally inadvisable, for example, to promote your financial controller to be finance director.

The fact is that the requirements of both positions are quite different.

The sales expert is usually a loner, operating away from base, making quick decisions, honing the skills of negotiation and developing a very thick skin from the repeated experience of rejection.

On the other hand, the sales manager has to be a leader with all the qualities that implies.  He/she needs to understand the (often psychological) needs of the people in the team, to be able to encourage as necessary and be demanding as necessary, to understand and to communicate the philosophy and ethos of the business and to monitor performance on a regular basis.

In the same way, the financial controller must be a specialist in terms of the production of accurate and timely financial information which is then passed to the finance director for analysis and assistance to the CEO in decision making.
Again, there are two entirely differing roles with the only links being sales performance overall, and the financial health of the business.
So what are the implications for a business?   It becomes evident that there is more than one leader in any company.  If anyone in the company  has people reporting to him/her then by definition they are a leader.
The complexity arises at this level when the leader has to become a follower to, for example, the CEO.
In general therefore, virtually anyone in the business with any responsibility has a divided role; that of leader and that of follower and it important that the latter role be understood.
It does not imply blind obedience; it does not imply either that the follower has no legitimate role in the business other than a functional one.  Indeed it is insulting to imply otherwise.
Look again at the saying sent to me; travel together, the leader encouraging and supporting the follower/s until the destination is reached together.   A wise man once said “The people want me to be their leader; I must follow them”
Tyranny in business is no longer an option.
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