Whatever you are, be a good one...
~ Abraham Lincoln
Can you imagine an army with only generals... all coaches with no players... how about all teachers with no students or all CEOs with no workers?
Everyone would be barking out orders... no one would actually be doing any of the work...
Anarchy would rule... and nothing would get done...
Although we’ve been instructed all of our lives to be leaders and not followers, the fact is, at one time or another each of us will be leaders and each of us will be followers... we can’t lead all the time and in every situation... sometimes our role is to be a part of a team rather than to lead the team...
So while there are mountainous volumes of material on how to be a good leader... there seems to be a void of information on becoming a good follower...
Why is that?
I suppose that history is written about leaders... not followers...
...but in the end... it’s the followers that ultimately get the work done...
Followers need great leaders... and leaders need great followers...
So what is it that makes a great follower... here are seven key attributes of a great follower:
A follower is loyal to their leader and/or to the cause, mission and/or goal.
Once a clear direction has been defined, followers should not continuously try to second guess or undermine the leader. They should do their very best to achieve the best outcome as a team.
Even if you might personally disagree (barring of course a blatant breach of morality or ethics) with the decisions that are being made, you need to soldier on to help achieve the team’s objectives.
Being a good follower doesn’t mean that you’re a "yes man". It’s perfectly okay to disagree with the boss but good followers never do it in public.
Public loyalty leads to private confidence and influence.
Simply put... a leader doesn’t want to be second guessed and wants to surround themselves with those team members who are loyal to them and their cause.
2) Solutions not Problem
I have a simple policy at OptiFuse that I try to adhere to... don’t bring me a problem unless you have a possible solution.
Anyone can point out the multitude of potential problems in a complex set of tasks. A great follower will help the leader to assess those problems and provide them with possible solutions to solve the issues.
It is essential to members of the team to create solutions, not more problems.
Good followers understand that some information is sensitive and should be treated as such.
If a leader trusts you enough to give you that information it shouldn’t be discussed outside of their presence or in front of other people (unless given permission to do so by the leader).
There are indeed occasions where the leader wants his followers to discuss an issue off-line (brainstorming various solutions to a particular problem perhaps)... however remember... you were selected by the leader to be a part of the team because you can be trusted... never break that trust.
4) Take charge
Great leaders are typically not interested in micromanaging the details of the team.
Leaders are charged with creating goals and/or initiatives and expect the team to implement the path to accomplish those objectives.
A good follower knows what to do when the ball is handed off to them. They find ways to get the job done with very little direction or supervision.
Members of the team also understand that it takes the participation of the entire team to accomplish great things and will find ways to get and keep other members of the team involved.
Creating a clear channel of communication between the leadership and the rest of the team is crucially important.
An effective leader must be able to clearly outline the goals and objectives to the team, however the leader needs constant feedback from the team members in order to make tactical changes to the plan and initiatives as necessary.
It is also essential that the team members provide facts and data rather than strictly opinions and conjecture (or at least clearly identify which is which).
6) Be a peacemaker
It is more than likely that somewhere along the way there will be some dissention among the ranks for some reason or another. This can be a certain unhappiness with the leadership or conflict amongst the team itself.
It is imperative at this point for other members of the team to continue to support the leadership and reiterate the team’s goals. A good follower will remind the team that achieving the ultimate goal is the team’s true objective and that each member of the team has a particular job in making those goals a reality.
They work for "the good of the whole" and help to remind others of this key concept as well.
7) Resist playing the blame game
Eventually, something will go wrong... it always does.
Sometimes failure has nothing to do with bad decisions, bad execution, or efforts put forward by the team... it was just a bad outcome. The reasons for failure could have been bad timing, uncontrollable outside forces (acts of God), market perceptions, or simply because someone else’s team wanted it more than your team.
Much of life is about winners and losers (contrary to the "everyone gets a trophy" concept). Sometimes we try our best and we still lose.
At this point it’s easy to start pointing fingers at the leadership and/or other team mates for the team’s failure.
However, it is at these times when a leader needs their team to work even harder together in order to solve the impending problems and hoping to find a better outcome in the future.
It’s definitely not easy being a leader... but having a great team behind you makes it that much easier and enjoyable.
Some of the best leaders have started out as great followers... they have learned leadership skills by watching and learning from leaders they have worked with...
Consequently... some of the best followers were at one time great leaders who understand just how difficult it is to lead. They understand what makes a great team and try to help the team along from below...
It’s important to understand that many times the leadership and team members are all in the same boat... a boat in which we all rise and fall with the impending tide...
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we always hope to lead our field... but we also hope to follow you to your success...
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Website - www.optifuse.com
Blog - www.optifuse.blogspot.com
Twitter - @OptiFuse