Personal development programs tend to focus much of their efforts on leadership principles, an important aspect to developing the individual self. Developing a good team, however, relies on fostering the skill of “followership.” It’s straightforward: followership is the ability to take direction and be part of a team to deliver what is expected of the group, department, or area.
Being labeled an “excellent follower” has been a backhanded compliment signaling an individual’s ineptitude when it comes to leadership potential. Because of this, many modern leaders fear being labeled as a good follower and seek opportunities to assert their dominance. In order to destigmatize the notion of following, this is a skill we need to showcase as leaders. When we practice following others, we are leading by example and showing those around us how to work together for the good of the team instead of the glory of the individuals.
Here are eight qualities of a Good Follower:
- Judgment—Followers must learn to take directions, but they have an underlying obligation only to do so when the direction is ethical. We must gain a level of discernment that helps us distinguish between directions we don’t agree with and directions that are wrong.
- Work Ethic—Good followers are good workers, diligent and motivated, committed and with good attention to detail. Being a follower means you were trusted to complete a task. Failing to do so, for whatever reason, will hurt your reputation as a leader and break trust with your peers and leaders.
- Competence—Followers must know their limits and only agree to complete tasks for which they are competent to perform. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.
- Honesty—Respect and politeness are important, but it is more important still that the follower also provide open and honest feedback to their leaders. Good leaders are grateful for constructive feedback, and good followers are not afraid to speak the truth as they see it.
- Courage—Honesty takes courage. Following someone else takes courage. A good follower faces their fears to fully engage in the work.
- Discretion—“Loose lips sink ships” is a favorite saying from WWII. Talking about work inappropriately or to an inappropriate audience undermines the teamwork and reputation of the entire enterprise.
- Loyalty—Obligation to the enterprise is essential in a follower, not obligation to an individual leader. It is paramount to the success of the group that each member has their loyalty aligned properly. When our loyalty lies with the enterprise (or the member), it is easier for us to set aside petty differences and focus on what is truly important as the work evolves.
- Ego Management—Followers are team players who embrace the fullness of the concept. They have good interpersonal skills. Their performance positively impacts the goal achievement, and their teammates know they are not doing the work for personal recognition or promotion.
- Being a Good Follower might feel like placing yourself in the shadow of leadership, but strong followers are essential to success. Without them, our workplace suffers from poor work ethic, bad morale, organizational confusion, and overall poor performance. The most important step to revamping workplace culture is for our leaders to model strong followership as well as strong leadership qualities.
Vozza, S. (2018). How to be a good follower (and why it’s a skill you need). Career Evolution.