One of the strengths I’m only just now learning to love is Command. My Command strength explains why others have always both considered me bossy but simultaneously have turned to me for leadership, even when I was a shy girl with little confidence.
So to be consistently in a follower role now is like writing with my left hand. Or maybe, more accurately, it’s like taking a different route to work, or putting my pants on starting with my right leg instead of my left.
It’s different. It takes some adjustment. It’s not necessarily better or worse, overall.
The main advantage of being a follower is that when I’m following a good leader, I don’t carry the weight of the responsibility of the project on my shoulders. I love this. I can focus on my more limited role than being responsible for the whole shebang.
However, given the follower role comes less naturally for me than leading, I do have a lot to learn about being a good follower. Here is what I’ve learned so far:
- Stay engaged – Just because I’m following does not mean I abdicate responsibility for the overall outcome. It’s still a team effort and I should keep an eye on the overall progress even if it’s not my primary responsibility.
- Communicate – It’s a bad idea to assume the leader or others have already anticipated the concern I’m struggling with. Communicating my concerns or improvements will help the team be successful, even if that’s not necessarily “my responsibility.” It’s also important to make sure I understand what my role is on the team. If I don’t have a clear understanding of what I am supposed to do, my failure to uphold my responsibilities can have a negative impact on the project.
- Timing and delivery – Though communication is important, when, how, and to whom I communicate are equally important. I have made the mistake of belaboring a point to the whole group, wasting everyone’s time and frustrating others, long after a decision has been made. A good follower accepts and supports the wisdom of the group after a decision has been made. To keep the project moving while considering a course correction, communication one on one to the appropriate individual (as opposed to the group as a whole) may be more appropriate. Timing is also important. Big decisions should not be forced in the heat of the moment. Undermining the leader by challenging him during a chaotic situation is unlikely to help, though quiet suggestions at this time can be helpful. Instead, leave the important discussions to quieter, calmer places and times. This takes some patience, not my greatest virtue.
- Take the initiative – Being a follower does not equate with being passive, either in communication (above) or action. It also doesn’t mean taking the project on tangents that are not agreed upon. Again, communication with key individuals to make sure I, and the project as a whole, are on track improves the odds of a good outcome.
- Be supportive – Even if I disagree with the leader or the group, there is a time for discussion and disagreement, and another time for action. It is important to recognize and respect those distinctions. Challenging the leader, if necessary, should generally be done in private. Gloating is also neither attractive nor helpful if, in the end, I was proven correct. Followers should also remember that leading is difficult, and to be as supportive of the leader as possible, even during disagreements.
My take home lesson is that it is just as hard to be a good follower as it is a good leader. As with many things, followership is a skill I did not know I needed but is hopefully not too late to start learning.