What Being a Follower Can Teach Us to Be Good Leaders

According to Barbara Kellerman, author of Followership: How Followers are Creating Change and Changing Leaders and lecturer at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, followers are given more power now because of advancements of shifts in technology and culture. She says that being a follower does not necessarily make you are not able to act independently. In fact, most of us are in followership roles without knowing it. Remember that the leader-follower dynamic is not only seen at work or in school, perhaps we are followers in our family, or in other pursuits like sports.


It seems that if we limit ourselves to questions like what leadership is or what it takes to be a leader, we are missing out on key lessons to be learnt as a follower.


Being good collaborators

When you are part of an organisation, you know that for a majority of the time, creative power comes from the followers. Teams from different departments work together to achieve a single goal: produce high quality work and approach problems in an innovative way. A leader who was a follower knows this and will try their best to collaborate with their own followers and bring out the best in them. While most of the time it is the leader that gets the credit, the leader knows that much of the elbow grease came because of the collective efforts of their team and will not hesitate to shine a spotlight on them.


Knows how to manage relations

Being part of a team means working with other people who may have different political affiliations and social beliefs than you. But this should not hinder you from being able to work with them well enough that you are able to produce good work. This is not to say that you should put those differences at the sideline, especially if their particular beliefs are harmful to you as a person. But that you are able to work around it while not ignoring it.


A leader should be aware of those differences and know when to step in when certain attitudes are affecting their followers negatively (that is to say, being affected mentally and emotionally).


A unique level of awareness

Followers are able to read people because they know how to anticipate needs. This is better imagined in restaurants, when sous chefs and chefs work together in unison. The sous chef is cognizant of the lead chef and would anticipate which task needs to be done to create the perfect dish. The result would be one dish coming out perfectly after another.


As a leader, you need to be fully aware of your colleagues, higher management, as well as your clients and global behaviours that can affect how you do business. You need to be able to make their differences work somehow and strengthen what ties them all together.


Kellerman says “Being a good follower is complicated in ways that are rather similar to being a good leader. It means being engaged. It means paying attention. It means having the courage to speak up when something’s wrong and it means having the energy and activism to support a leader or manager who’s doing things wisely and well.”


We all know the kind of pressure that pushes down on us when we are doing something that is not right only because higher management are telling us to. It takes guts and courage to be able to stand up and speak out. Followers develop a level of conviction that good leaders should have.

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