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How to Influence Your Manager: Passive Versus Proactive Followership

Traditionally, leadership theory and practice has favored the leader in discussions of how leadership can advance organizational effectiveness. As a result, experts often portray followers as employees who concede to a leader’s direction and are passive recipients of orders and guidance.  But few have explored how followers can act as proactive partners in the leadership process.

Followers are essential to any organization. Without followers there are no leaders and without proactively engaged followers there is little room for company growth. Proactive followers are not ‘yes people’. They support their leaders by questioning their assumptions and offering competing views on how to overcome important challenges. In the current climate, a lack of proactive followership may lead to company-wide failure. There is however, a fine line between constructive and destructive behavior.

Excluding situations where a boss continues to make decisions to the detriment of the organization and its people, it’s important to balance the line between a passive and proactive follower.  A passive follower is one which is strictly obedient and refrains from questioning their leader’s decisions or ideas even if they disagree. Conversely, a proactive follower is one that contributes to decisions which affect the group and displays independent thinking. As such, this style of followership is more of a partnership.

So, if you are given the opportunity to actively influence your leader, how do you do so constructively?

Offer Your Expertise, Not Your Inexperience

One objective in the partnership is for the proactive follower to provide advice which has not been considered by the leader. But evaluate the worth of your advice before you give it– where does this come from? Can you support your advice with experience? Have you thought about the potential implications? By holding back on weakly grounded ideas, or by exaggerating their worth, you could be hindering the decision process. Play devil’s advocate. Ask yourself whether the information is significant to the manager’s decision, and whether the decision is based on solid evidence or facts. If not then it may be advisable to keep quiet and let another colleague have the opportunity to voice their experience in this situation.

A proactive follower is one that contributes to decisions which affect the group and displays independent thinking. As such, this style of followership is more of a partnership.

 Be a Trusted Contributor

Regardless of whether you are largely a passive or proactive follower, if there is no trust you cannot influence, and it is a key factor on the leader / follower partnership. A passive follower has to be trusted to do their job to the best of their ability and a proactive follower needs to give trustworthy advice.

If a proactive follower gives their advice in a manager relationship where there is no trust, the leader may see the guidance and involvement in decisions as a threat to their position. In this occasion it may be wiser to display passive behaviour. The more that the subordinate shows that they have earned the manager’s trust; it is more likely that the proactive followership will be well received.

Be Aware of your Manager’s Stress Levels

We have all been there, when a sudden deadline means you have to react swiftly. During these times your manager will be have a limited time to make a decision. Decision making delays such as challenging assumptions or even their logic can lengthen the process and this delay could actually be costlier than accepting the leader’s decision. Displaying proactive followership should only be done if the opinion or challenge will significantly improve the final decision. Otherwise the advice will be treated with contempt or manifest itself into distrust.*

 

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Copyright: huhulin / 123RF Stock Photo

*All content has been taken from the book, Followership: What Is It and Why Do People Follow? by Laurent M. Lapierre and Melissa K. Carsten from global academic publisher, Emerald Group Publishing. The book provides a collection of new insights on the increasingly popular topic of Followership and readers of Switch & Shift can access the chapter ‘Why and How Should Subordinates Follow Their Managers?’ by Laurent M. Lapierre at www.emeraldinsight.com/tk/Follow

 

 

Laurent Lapierre

Dr. Lapierre's educational background is in industrial-organizational psychology and business administration. His research focuses mainly on two topics: Work-family conflict and leadership. Work-family conflict refers to the incompatibility between one's work and family obligations, which is related to a host of problems, such as poor employee health, dissatisfaction at work and at home, poor job performance, as well as increased absenteeism and turnover. In his work on leadership, Dr. Lapierre has been giving particular attention to the influence that followership can have on leadership. Leadership is fundamental to organizational success. Yet, one cannot be a true leader without having at least one follower, implying that followership is also critical for organizational success. Dr. Lapierre is also a passionate and committed teacher. The University of Ottawa awarded him an Excellence in Education Prize for demonstrating outstanding teaching while maintaining a solid program of research.

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