Leaders Must Follow

Leaders Must Follow

Follow the leader. Remember the rules? Everyone follows the leader’s actions, or they’re out. Who’s more important – the follower or the leader? Perhaps they are equally important?

Communication Professor and Facilitator, Diane Travers Shipman, recently questioned this in a presentation. Shipman illustrated that “In most modern groups, corporate or otherwise, followers’ contributions are grossly underrated.”

Shipman noted that there is a glorification on the concept of leadership, leaving far less recognition on the people doing the actual work, the followers. Leaders receive the glory, but the real achievement is obtainable with only great followership.

HR and corporate leaders should recognize the significance of following their followers. Doing so maintains strong leadership and improves the efforts of all involved. This type of leadership taken to the extreme is called Servant Leadership.

Where is the focus, REALLY?

Is there a focus on leadership rather than followership? Using Google’s search results, the numbers speak for themselves. A search on books discussing “followership” yielded 604,000 results vs. 213,000,000 results on books discussing leadership.

One specific article on “followership” was noted from Harvard Business Review by Barbara Kellerman. Kellerman points out that the modern leadership industry, which is now decades old, is built on the proposition that leaders matter a great deal and followers hardly at all.

More so, the materials on followership tend to group followers as though they are simple like-minded people kowtowing to the all-powerful leader. Kellerman continues to explain the different types of followers and their unique qualities.


Is Servant Leadership the Answer?

Art Barter, the CEO of the Servant Leadership Institute, notes in The Art of Servant Leadership article by Mark Tarallo, “Performance goes through the roof” with Servant Leadership.

In Servant Leadership, the traditional power structure turns upside down. The leader focuses on serving employees. Leaders do this by shifting their mindset from “commanding” to “serving” employees, thus optimizing work conditions. The outcome breeds leaders engaging employees, in turn, causing a focus on improving company results.

Servant Leadership may be too drastic of a change for many departments or corporate leaders. In these cases, there is another solution that gets results. As stated by @AmyVetterCPA, “To be a good leader, you first have to be a good follower.”

Humble leaders that are supportive and maintain respectful relationships become great leaders who lead by example. Followers focus on improving results, and HR leaders benefit from a happier, more engaged workforce. Next time children play “Follow the Leader,” should we suggest a name change to “Follow the Follower”?

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