5 Ideas To Inspire Your Followership

I am taking a break from writing for a few days to evaluate the second half of 2012 and for a speaking engagement in Southern California. While I’m away, I’m re-posting some of my most popular posts from the last year. I hope you enjoy reading or re-reading these posts. I’ll be back and better than ever on July 16, 2012!

Leadership is changing. Can you sense it?

It’s still necessary and vital. But the way it’s practiced, exhibited, and talked about is shifting.

The need for top-down, command-and-control, strong-and-solitary, hierarchical leadership is fading from view. In its place is a growing desire for some type of collaborative, shared, organizational-flattening leadership. In this new and evolving paradigm, one is often called on to be both leader and follower (even throughout the course of an hour-long meeting).

It used to be the leader’s job to raise up other leaders to replace him or her when it was time to step down. Now, it’s becoming crucial for a leader to raise up and work with other leaders in the present moment. Sharing leadership is necessary and becoming much more situational as to when someone steps up or steps back.

I spend a lot of time writing about being a leader. But I haven’t written much about being a follower. In the coming days, that discrepancy needs to change. Leaders have influence, but so do followers. Both leaders and followers have varying degrees of responsibility.

If you find yourself in a leadership position, it’s time to begin thinking about your growing role as a follower. I’m taking some time to reflect on these five ideas and how to better develop them on a team or in an organization.

1. You will be the best you can be by helping others be the best they can be.

This is my own version of Zig Ziglar’s famous quote, “If you help enough other people get what they want, you will get what you want.” It’s all about giving yourself away for the good of others.

If I am called upon to follow, I will be at my best if I help the leader do his or her best. This is a different aspiration than trying to be my best because I want to be the leader. It flows out of the paradoxical idea that if I help someone else, I inevitably help myself.

But it’s not a transactional process (otherwise I’m simply being selfish) – it’s a sacrificial one. I help, give, and sacrifice for the good of others expecting nothing in return. When I’m motivated by this type of sacrifice, I am shaped into the best person I can be.

2. Effective leadership creates space for other leaders to emerge.

I appreciate the leadership principle that says, “Authority over doesn’t always mean competency in.” Basically, as the leader, you don’t have to be the most talented, smartest, or most capable person at the table. You are simply the one who is responsible for guiding all of the smart people in a certain direction. In this sense, the buck stops with you.

But in the changing landscape of leadership, competency in certain areas may open the doors for more people to step into leadership roles. These roles may be shaped more by a person’s strengths and capabilities than by a corporate structure or titles.

When the traditional leader acknowledges and empowers the smarter people at the table (especially in an area of weakness for the leader), it creates an environment where other people can become more influential in moving the team or organization forward.

3. Serving others is the most concise formula to make a difference.

I am a firm believer that the best leaders are servants. But that goes for followers as well. In fact, it doesn’t matter what your official role or capacity is, serving the needs of others is the most profound form of influence in the world.

There will always be great causes needing to be solved. The greater need is people who are willing to serve. Servanthood should permeate the culture of your team, embodied and demonstrated by everyone no matter position or role.

4. Model the type of follower you’d want to lead.

As the leadership hat passes from one person to another, it gives each person a chance to become a model of followership. We talk a lot about the type of example set by a leader. We learn from both the good and bad examples of those with the responsibility of leadership.

Yet the same could be said of followers. We all have worked with people that exemplified what it meant to be an awesome teammate, a trusted colleague, or an inspirational co-worker. We’ve seen the opposite as well.

5. Following teaches you in ways leading never can.

A real life example of this idea is seen in the TV show, Undercover Boss. In each episode, the CEO of a large company goes undercover within the organization, working within some type of entry-level position.

The experience is eye-opening for each CEO. They get a first-hand look at what life looks like through the experiences of being a follower. They make connections and grow in appreciation for people in their company they might never have met personally. In the end, both the experience and the new insights transforms the way he or she leads from that moment on.

I would encourage you to take a closer look at the systems within your organization and the type of leadership required to sustain them. As the landscape of leadership continues to change, our future accomplishments may rely on shared leadership and mutual follower-ship models.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas and any others you may have.

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