Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Everyone promotes leadership. Companies encourage and even pay for leadership training. Everyone praises and rewards the great "leader", but who actually put Part A into Slot B and delivered the product? The workers did. Not the leaders, the followers.

Leadership training attempts to teach managers the actions they should take to interest or engage single individuals or teams of individuals in a goal or process leading to the desired result. Leadership training also teaches how to make group dynamics a supporting element in achieving that result.

OK; you knew all of that, just not in those words. What's the point?

The point is that to be a leader you must have followers. People who, consciously or unconsciously, have agreed to let you make the critical decisions and then follow those decisions by performing the steps necessary to achieve the mutually desired goal.

We've all seen examples of efforts that were less successful than they might have been or were outright failures because of team members who didn't fully support the leader. The tendency is to blame the leader. He/she didn't motivate or engage (or whatever the current buzz word is) the team. But, maybe the team member(s) couldn't or wouldn't follow!

Henry Ford is quoted as saying, "Asking ‘who ought to be the boss’ is like asking who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?  Obviously; the man who can sing tenor."  At some point the people doing the work or managing sub-sections of the effort must agree on who "can sing tenor"!

Followership consists of giving your boss the best of your thinking on every subject and then executing her decisions with your full support. Part of leadership is accepting your team member’s advice and not giving directions that conflict with that advice.

Of course, sometimes the advice is $10,000 and the budget is $5,000 and good leadership demands a clear explanation to the team. When this happens, the team may not be able to deliver and the project may not be viable. Thankfully, obstacles like that will be rare, since that’s caused by a poor cost analysis during the planning phase.

Followership is like being a passenger in an automobile. You accept that someone else is driving and agree not to grab the steering wheel. As passengers, we do get to advise the driver about a faster route and dangers we see, but we trust the driver to make the right decisions.

First and foremost each and every team member must accept that they are followers. Going back to that Henry Ford quote – each team member has to make a conscious decision that the team leader “can sing tenor”! Trying to wrest control from the team leader destroys the team and ensure that the project will fail. Just as the passengers agree not to try and fight the driver for control, team members must follow the directions of the team leader.

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