Looking back over my life, I can recall many leaders in my life — teachers, pastors, coaches, bosses, and others. Some of them were people I merely tolerated; others, I would have walked through fire for. What a difference between those in the first group and those in the second! The good leaders were the ones I trusted completely, learned from, sacrificed for — those for whom I gave my best, all the time. It’s hard for me to put my finger on just what it was about those leaders that so inspired me. But fortunately, it’s not difficult for Doug Williamson, CEO of The Beacon Group, who addresses just that in this week’s Business Success column.
Leaders in the workplace are always aiming to achieve the benefits, stature and even glamor of being a “real” leader — the person who calls all the shots and creates a visionary plan to boost revenues. How can you blame them? It’s all they’ve ever read about. It’s all they ever see in the workplace. Perhaps it’s even the behavior you project as a leader yourself.
Being the stereotypical leader is the easiest way to stand out, the easiest way to be noticed and the easiest way to move up. Everyone speaks that language. Who would want to be a follower anyway?
The fact is leadership, as we know it, is about the individual. It’s about guiding the sheep, if you can put it in those words.
The problem is that this idea of leadership leaves out the contributions of many others. Worse, it blocks leaders from noticing other leaders.
The outcome is a company that becomes dependent on the ideas, values and direction of a single person or group of powerful leaders.
The solution is to consider the less glamorous role of followers in your organization and assess their condition. Are they detached? Will they question your leadership? Will they follow you in every action you take?
This is a much talked about subject.
One of the central roles of leadership is to build other leaders. However, individuals are often so focused on themselves and their vision for the company or business, that they forget how to deal with upcoming talent.
The people you’re leading can play vital roles in organizing smaller projects, smaller groups and smaller ideas. They can mobilize entire components of your vision or they can be ignored and become isolated and detached. Just because they don’t stand out in an outspoken fashion, doesn’t mean they should be disregarded.
Forget about nurturing them. Have you even noticed your “mini-leaders”?
You know exactly who we’re talking about….
You know exactly who these people are. They are the implementers. Those who sit quietly in meetings, gather all the information and spring into action when the plan is set.
They are everywhere. You see them every day. But, they don’t scream individualism.
They may not come up with the latest and greatest ideas, but this doesn’t indicate that they don’t have the power to guide the fortunes of your organization.
And you better see it before it becomes a problem.
It’s a theme that author Barbara Kellerman repeats in her book “Followership”
Kellerman points to 5 types of followers: Isolates, Bystanders, Participants, Activists and Diehards.
It’s not difficult to see where this is going. Followers are categorized from most despondent to most active in your organization. For example, think of Isolates as the average voter — I mean those “voters” who don’t actually show up to the polls — as Kellerman describes. They are detached, perhaps frustrated with their environment, but unwilling to take steps to correct the situation.
Bystanders and Participants offer higher levels of involvement, but won’t follow your lead unconditionally. Needless to say, Activists and Diehards contribute significantly more to your overall success and the projects you initiate – if they’re on your side.
The next generation….
The most important part of this new approach to leadership is that it is designed specifically to fit with the flood of Gen Y employees arriving in the workplace.
While the term “Followership” may seem negative, Gen Y employees expect something a bit deeper than absolute leadership. They want their own little workplace kingdom to oversee, and they want to be sure that they are contributing to the organization in a very real way. Understanding the concept of Followership provides a shortcut to achieving this goal.
How to create Followership behavior in your organization….
Identify and Nurture – If you look at your top leaders on a regular basis, you should also be looking to categorize your followers. Who are the Isolates, the Activists, the Diehards? Identify what you want from each of these groups and develop a plan to move them from one level to the next.
The Flip Side – Different kinds of followers can challenge a leader’s ideas or vision in different ways. Generally, a healthy guideline is to allow for some critical feedback from your colleagues. Ensure that you build a diversity of followers in every category to be challenged from a multitude of perspectives.
Building Leaders – Your group of followers provides an excellent pool for leadership candidates. They’re not all leaders, but by turning them into effective followers you’re already constructing their leadership complex within their domain.
Doug Williamson is CEO of The Beacon Group, a Toronto-based firm that specializes in Organizational Transformation and Effectiveness programs as well as Talent Identification and Leadership Development.