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Develop Good Followers – Leading vs. Following

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Are leading and following related? The short answer is yes. But it is a little more complicated.
Everyone has a boss. Even the CEO reports to a board. Therefore, leaders must also be followers.
But what does that mean?

Too often the requirement to be a follower is interpreted to mean, “Do as you’re told and don’t argue.” Sometimes that may be necessary, but usually that approach does not benefit the team or the leader. A better approach is to support the leader.

Isn’t that the same thing?

Not always. If you see a better way, or detect a serious flaw in the plan, and keep that to yourself, that’s not being a good follower. Supporting your boss means honest input and full use of your own expertise. Being a good follower is not a passive process.

So what can you do as a leader to develop good followers?
1. Realize that you don’t just need passive followers. You need good active team members.
2. Develop a culture that encourages good conflict. That means robust discussion of the issue at hand, but no discussion about the people involved.
3. Actively solicit everyone’s input. Just because Jill’s expertise isn’t in the particular area in question doesn’t mean she won’t have a good idea or see a problem that needs to be addressed.
4. Recognize good ideas, suggestions, and especially those times when someone catches a flaw that would result in future problems. Your team must know you genuinely appreciate their input.
5. Never be the smartest person in the room.
6. Remember you are leading a team, not a group of yes people.

Back to the original question: Are leading and following closely related? The answer is yes. Good leaders rely on their team members. Good team members support their team leader. For best results, the team leader must develop a culture in the team that doesn’t allow passive following but encourages active participation.

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