You may be a great leader, but is anyone following?

I was in a leadership meeting a few days ago and was listening as one of the participants explained how he was a leader and how he leads others. I listened carefully. At the end of his long list of leadership abilities I said, “are they following?” He, and others, were a bit taken back by my question. It’s a fair question to ask any leader. You can lead all day long, but in the end is their anyone behind you?

Leadership, leadership, leadership. It seems all I hear about is leadership, but that’s only half of the equation. Followership is the other equally important half of the equation. We all are followers, even if you are a leader you are a follower. If you don’t think you are, think again. If you can’t accept that you may have challenges in your leadership journey.

In the book Leadership is Half the Story, Marc and Samantha Hurwitz compare leadership to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the movie Swing Time made in 1936. Why compare it to these two tap dancing actors? If you watch the dance scene, the couple only dance the same steps some of the time. Ginger Rogers moves backward in high heels, partnering with Astaire by offering different, but complementary moves. You can see one of the many dances here. As the great Anne Richards put it, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, just backwards and in high heels.” I couldn’t resist.

Beyond the ability for Fred and Ginger to dance different moves at the same time, both must exhibit leadership and followership. Think of it this way. Back in 2019 you went out to dance with some friends. You aren’t a great dancer, so your partner who is a great dancer is pulling you all over the floor. On the other side of this you may be a great follower, but your leader is lacking, so you are pushing them all over the dance floor. Maybe the adult beverages helped and you still had a great time, otherwise it may have been a less than exciting night out dancing. Fred and Ginger created a team that had mastery and skillful leadership/follower skills that created dazzling dance sequences.

Let’s talk about the leader and follower roles and how they form a partnership.

Decision advocating: As a leader you are in the “room” for one reason, that is to bring the right people together, collaborate, and provide prospective. The follower executes the plan and brings it to life. Leaders, get the hell out of the way.

Performance: Leaders create an environment that is rooted in commitment and trust. They must ensure followers feel a sense of purpose around their work. The flipside to this is followers must take ownership of their work, be accountable, and take responsibility for their own development. Learning and developing is the responsibility of the follower. At some point you started learning on your own and stopped going to your parents for everything. Same concept, we are all adults.

Alignment/Acumen: Leaders often have the best holistic view of an organization and they know where the political landmines are hidden.  The follower must make the effort to listen and learn and remain flexible. Followers that take the initiative to learn about other parts of the organization are better suited to answer hard questions, viewed as true contributors, and have the ability to manage the politics.

Communicating: We have two types of communication, one for leaders and one for followers. Leaders communicate with team members to keep initiatives moving and aligned with followers. The follower’s communication is meant to keep the leader informed of changes and impacts to ensure the leader can make the best decision. When the leader is the only one communicating the dance doesn’t work. When the follower isn’t communicating in a clear succinct way this can cause the leader to make poor decisions. Recently a leader called me regarding some reports that were not delivered to his team. I asked the leader what the expectation was for the delivery date. I asked if the follower, his employee, had communicated this. The leader response was, “I don’t know what she does.” Clearly, communication is not working for the leader or the follower.

Relationships: Leaders are tasked with building highly functioning teams. Teams that can have the tough conversations and still function. The follower must develop a relationship with the leader to assist and provide support. If the follower has direct reports, the setup may be different for that situation so you can structure the relationship for them.

Here’s the bottom line:

In a relationship you need leadership and followership, the two are equal, innovative, and divergent. In soccer, when the teammate with the ball is the leader, and everyone else is guided by his/her actions. However; when the ball is passed, you now have a new leader, and the former holder is now the follower and is looking how to best help and defend the new leader. Leadership is a lot like the game, it’s every changing and dynamic.

You may be a great leader, but is anyone following?

Blogs you may like:

Life in the Leadership Lane with Bruce Waller
Welcome to “Life in the Leadership Lane” where Bruce Waller is talking to leaders making a difference in the workplace and in their communities. How did they get to where they are and what are they doing to stay there? Buckle up and get ready to accelerate in the Leadership Lane!

Stories of the human heart. A candid, unscripted conversation between two people about what's really important in life: love, loss, family, friendship. When the world seems out of hand, tune in to StoryCorps and be reminded of the things that matter most.

Manage Right from the Start with Jennifer Takagi
Get all the inside secrets and tools you need to help you develop your leadership skills so you can build the best team to drive productivity and profitability.  Alexsys Thompson, Author and Executive Coach, discusses her newest book The Power of a Graceful Leader.

Have the need to read? Check out these titles.

All books are available at your favorite book seller or via Kindle. Don't forget to check the library too :-)

The Power of a Graceful Leader by Alexsys Thompson

It’s the Manager by Gallup

Daring Greatly by Team Brene


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