During one of the TEDx events that I attended recently they played a video of a TED talk which I thought very intriguing. Unfortunately, due to a technical glitch we ended up missing the name of the person but that did not detract from his message. He talked about the importance of followership in the overall context of leadership. One of the comments that he made was quite funny. He said
“The first follower turns that leader from a nut job to an actual leader.”
While the comment is funny, it is actually quite profound. It actually takes more courage for an individual to follow someone else as opposed to jump in front of everyone and ask them to follow them. Yes, being willing to lead is important but without having at least one person exhibit visible support and belief in the cause and more importantly in the person who is leading, that person is not a leader but a loud mouth.
That raises the question then if followership is important to leadership, then what characteristics are important in developing solid followership? As I was searching for a definition of this I ran across an article by Col Phillip S. Meilinger titled “The Ten Rules of Good Followership.” It offers an interesting read, especially since it comes from a military perspective, which is a bit different from the world of project management.
I also ran across a book by Dr. Barbara Kellerman of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government titled Followership. Here is a description pulled directly out of amazon:
“… professor Kellerman (Bad Leadership) shifts the focus from leadership to followership, arguing that followers are every bit as important as leaders. Defining followers as subordinates who have less power, authority and influence than their superiors, and who usually, but not always, fall into line, she notes that we are all followers at different points in time. Followers, Kellerman argues, are getting bolder and more strategic, less likely to know their place and affecting work places, to mixed results. She identifies five types of followers based upon level of engagement: Isolate, Bystander, Participant, Activist and Diehard.”
The key message is that we are all followers at some point in our lives and before we are able or willing to stand in a position of leadership and/or authority we have to develop the skills to be a good follower. That will position us to better understand how to motivate others in a proactive manner.