In the last Business Maverick, I revealed how the great American leadership shortage is being exacerbated by our society’s over-emphasis on leadership. I suggested that we need to resurrect the late, great and honorable art of followership. And I suggested that tomorrow’s great leaders will really come from today’s great followers.
I also promised to distill for you The Ten Most Important Rules of Followership. Here they are.
How To Be a Great Follower
- Understand to the roots your team’s entire mission and objectives.
Internalize how the mission affects every member of the team. This multiplies your and your leader’s effectiveness and saves time, energy and frustration. If your leader hasn’t provided a full picture of the mission and objectives, acquire it.
- Arrive at the scene of the action prepared and dressed to play.
On-target preparation without waiting for the leader’s direction is the mark of a great follower. Over-preparation is the mark of an outstanding follower. Preparation allows you to maximize your potential for excellent work. Voluntary skill-building allows you to increase the potential value of your work.
- Don’t waste the leader’s time.
A great follower never comes to the leader with a problem without a proposal for a genuine solution. An outstanding follower comes to the leader with two genuine solutions. Leaders love options.
- Act daily to promote team cohesion through trust and shared experience.
Effective problem-solving requires diversity in team members’ experience, viewpoint and knowledge; but the garden of diversity grows only in the top soil of team cohesion. Only where there is trust can there be honest dissent, creativity and exploration.
- Harmonize your communications to your leader’s communication style.
Great followers choose from a variety of communication styles to match the needs of the mission and the leader’s thought process. Outstanding followers slash communication to a minimum on non-crucial issues. But they over-communicate judiciously on crucial issues.
- Work to remove the friction and fog from the work environment.
Great followers facilitate communications both among team members and outside the team. They also gather, synthesize and communicate business intelligence relevant to the team’s mission they gather from outside their job description. They smooth business activity by continuously improving the logistics and organization of business activity—everything from file cabinets to paperwork processing to travel arrangements to helpful computer programs or files. Remember, business is hard even when all goes according to plan and everyone does his or her own job perfectly. It is far more difficult in the real world.
- Recognize that you have a duty to respectful and intelligent dissent up to the point a decision has been made.
Great followers fulfill this duty with discretion and tact. Outstanding followers reframe dissents as problems to be solved, and offer the leader options.
- Set your own standards and evaluate yourself.
Great followers hold themselves to personal high standards in anticipation of those set down by the leader. Outstanding followers set a daily example for their peer group and their subordinates.
- Inspire the leader.
Great followers help to remove the loneliness of leadership and the ambiguity of command. Outstanding followers recognize teams must buy time for their leaders to sort out problems, opportunities, and resources for the most effective approach. They recognize that false starts and detours are the price for success in an ambiguous and complex world.
- Aim for stability and satisfaction in your personal life.
Your personal satisfaction in your home life is not only a reward in itself; it is the bedrock of success in your business life. It centers you and even allows you a degree of risk on the job.
These 10 Rules are ideals for all of us to follow; it is beyond the perfectibility of human kind to achieve these ideals. Yet I am convinced that in our best moments, most of us achieve high levels along each of these dimensions.
Think of the following situations.
The administrative assistant who suggests that tomorrow might be a better time for your difficult conference with the boss and arranges for it over a lunch at the boss’s favorite restaurant is fulfilling Rules 5 and 6.
When you take the added time to recast your problem as an opportunity that might improve your department’s effectiveness--and you make the effort to provide the boss two or three options,--you are fulfilling Rules 1, 2, and 3.
When, at that restaurant, you ask enough question of the leader to better understand her very different view of the problem—and start thinking with her about new ways around it—you are fulfilling Rule 9.
When, driving home that evening, you carefully evaluate your own performance in handling the thorny problem, and resolve to try a different approach in the future, you are fulfilling Rule 8.
That night, when you take 15 minutes to create a simple spreadsheet program that replaces an annoying calculation your team members routinely must perform, then get your friend in IT to post it on the company’s intranet, you are fulfilling Rule 6.
When you take your department’s newest employee out to lunch and learn her goals, ambitions and background, you are laying the groundwork for increased team cohesion, fulfilling Rule 4.
When you personally make phone calls to your peers to make sure they know about the meeting on the 23rd, double-check the travel arrangements and remind them of the information they should bring and the questions likely to be asked, you are helping remove the fog and friction of business while boosting team cohesion. When you do this in plain site of your colleagues and subordinates you are setting a good example—fulfilling Rules 2, 4 and 6.
Finally, when you make the tough tradeoff between the business trip and your kid’s soccer practice, you are fulfilling rule 10.