Leadership Flows from Followership


How good a leader are you? More importantly, how good a follower are you? And most importantly, have you ever thought about the connection between the two?

We spend billions of dollars and thousands upon thousands of hours each year teaching and learning how to lead. But we spend comparatively little time teaching and learning how to follow. Despite this disproportionate focus, none of us leads all the time, and most of us in fact will spend far more of our time following someone else’s lead. To succeed in the 21st century business world, a world built entirely upon teams, we need to know how to function well within a group.

Leadership training is focused on teaching how to speak with authority, direct the team, motivate others, exude a leadership presence, etc, etc, etc. All of those things are important, and my colleagues and I teach those things just like everyone else.

How much time have you spent learning how to listen? Learning how to follow? Learning how to be a good teammate?

But how much time have you spent learning how to listen? Learning how to follow? Learning how to be a good teammate? In fact, “following” is sometimes a bad word in the 21stcentury business world. Describing someone as “a follower” is often code for many things, few of them good.

And yet most of us will spend the vast majority of our time on the team, rather than leading the team. If we are going to succeed, and if our teams are going to succeed, we need to know how conduct ourselves when we are not in charge.

Here are a few specific techniques that will make you a better, more productive member of the team:

Learn how to listen.

We could write a few thousand words on this topic alone… and we have. But the primary point is that we need to care about listening to others. Put the phone down. Stop checking your email. Take notes. Repeat back what you hear. Make a point of listening closely to what others say.

Find and embrace your role.

There are many ways to contribute to a successful team, and every good teammate will look for ways to add unique value. Sometimes your role will be given to you. Sometimes you have to uncover your role for yourself. But you need to know what that role will be, and then you need to embrace that role. Find something that the team sorely needs, and that you can do well, and then do it exceptionally well.

Disagree internally, support externally.

Have an opinion, express it respectfully, and if you disagree with the path, don’t be afraid to say so. But once the decision is made, get on board and do everything you can to help the team succeed. Don’t campaign for change. Don’t run for a promotion. Do your job well, and keep your disagreement in-house.

Find something that the team sorely needs, and that you can do well, and then do it exceptionally well.

Cheer for the success of others.

When you support others who are leading, you make it more likely that they will cheer for you when it is your turn to lead.

Being a great teammate is about having your ego in check, first and foremost. If you need to be out front, need to lead the meeting, need to speak up all the time, you will probably have a hard time following someone else’s lead. But if you can keep those “needs” in check and can learn to be a great teammate, you will have the opportunity to add significant value, and you will greatly enhance your brand. People want to partner with great teammates. And, ironically, if you develop your followership skills, you will also be developing your leadership skills, by creating a network of people who will be happy to follow you when it is your turn to step forward.

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Image credit- alphaspirit / 123RF Stock Photo

Dean is a recognized expert in persuasive communication. He is the founder and president of The Latimer Group, an executive coaching and training firm that that specializes in creating powerful communication skills for its clients. He is the author of two books: Move the World: Persuade Your Audience, Change Minds and Achieve Your Goals and Sharing the Sandbox: Building and Leading World-Class Teams in the 21st Century. Dean served as Chairman for the US Olympic Sailing Program from 2005 through 2012, and as Olympic Team Leader at the 2008 Games in Beijing and the 2012 Games in London. He trained for the 2000 US Olympic Team and finished second at the US Trials. He has won seven national championships and five international championships. Dean lives in Connecticut with his family.

  • Interesting Dean, interesting that you think of listening as being a follower. In my 30+ years of managing people, I found that listening was my most important leadership skill. Listening and then responding to their satisfaction or better shows great respect for employees thus leading them in how to treat their work, their customers, each other, and their bosses with great respect.

    Take a look at this article/video

    Best regards, Ben

  • Dean M. Brenner

    Hey ben… I do think listening is an important component of following. But I also think it is an important component of leading. Everyone needs to know how to listen. thanks for the comment.

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