Watching YouTube presentations can be very impactive, and a short video on ‘followership’ (in contrast to leadership), by David L Marquet, recently struck a chord with me.
In the example David provides, followership does not occur where people are led in a hierarchical manner i.e. I follow you and you follow them, right up the ladder to the top of the organisation. Rather the whole organisation, including the leader(s), is encouraged to follow the same set of principles.
The concept of followership appears to me therefore to not be about following a particular person because they are in charge, more about following what a person or organisation stands for. The very essence of followership remains the same as ‘following’ in that, in making that choice, you agree to be led, and the dynamic of the ‘agreement’ you have entered into is that a leader is in the mix somewhere.
But the problem with this dynamic is that it implies quite an inflexible process; “I do this and therefore you follow”. Of course, the essence of good leadership is that it is not about being authoritarian, it is about what you bring that inspires people to follow you, which fundamentally means they have changed what they were doing in some way, even if it is only a subtle change of direction, because they have a belief in what you have to say or do.
So what has to take place to create a ‘followership’?
Maybe it is easier to determine what does NOT have to take place? For example, imposing demands on people can create a head-down mentality; “If I keep my head down long enough, maybe I will not get noticed or things will settle down without me having to do this”. The natural conclusion to this approach can be a lack of followership.
So if the opposite can act as the catalyst to create a followership, we need to look to those actions that create confidence, that provide clarity through the change process, and that encourage people to work in different ways, maybe being more innovative or creative, to achieve objectives and, in doing so, following a set of organisational principles autonomously i.e. to do for themselves the very things you need them to do without having to always direct them. In doing so, flattening out the traditional hierarchical structures that dictate how organisations work.
But to achieve this flatter structure, whilst at the same time maintaining control, requires flexible thinking. It needs leaders to look to their workforce for inspiration, to recognise that the workforce are ‘knowledge workers’ i.e. likely to be more knowledgeable in specific areas than you, and to accept that the workforce can have the solutions to the problem. So you really do need to listen to what your people are trying to say.
In short, it is about re-evaluating your leadership approach and, if not already doing so, looking at things through the other end of the lens; focussing on investing in and supporting your own people so that they can be as good as you want or need them to be.
It needs the very people you see as following you to take the lead on your behalf on a day to day basis, and to themselves encourage others to direct activities at the same set of principles you are working towards.
The credibility (value or currency) of a leader is, after all, only a reflection of their own quality and, by definition, being a leader does require followers. Investing time to develop desired qualities in your own people can only serve to increase followership, improve performance and foster teamwork, making it easier to achieve organisational goals, maybe even facilitating the growth of the future leaders of your organisation.
Isn’t it about time more leaders looked at things from their followers perspective?