By Muzahidul Islam Jahid
A few days back, I was having an enthralling discussion with an Executive Director of a fast-growing company. Not only is he very popular with his teammates and subordinates, he is also the first choice for any upcoming project by his employer. He started his career as a machine operator with a diploma in Electronics; since then, he has risen to the acme of the ladder in a matter of 15 to 16 years. The astonishing part of his endeavor is that he lacks higher education and connections that would lobby him into such a position. Furthermore, he has a progressive mind and does not resort to any unethical means to gain favor. Obtaining a promotion or coming under special perks has never been his concern. He concentrates on knowing and doing his job while setting a personal example through applying common sense; humility and the fact that there is always space to learn.
When asked how he had attained such success, he answered in one word, “Followership”. He explained that he equates it as the most important trait to his achievements.
The concept of followership demands a discussion at the moment and the practice of it is the call of the time. Moreover, with extensive studies focused on leadership, we are neglecting the need to comprehend followership; this is largely due to the common mindset that following entails being in the control of another. We commonly entertain the myth that followership makes one a tool for others, hampering our own courage or zeal to take command.
It’s a fact that leadership is a must-have quality for the youth but the way it is to be practiced is a matter to reconsider. If everyone wants to lead and direct an organization, who then will accomplish the rest?
As a matter of fact, followership is the art of practicing leadership from any given position. It is the key strategy to help any leader be successful and prepare them for the future. It should be perceived as an integral and ubiquitous part of leading with the ‘cause’ for sustainable success.
Followership makes the bench strength of an organization when considering the total prosperity of the company. It creates an indomitable inquisitiveness to understand the stigma of life. Followership means having a mentor, listening to that person, being coached effectively, and actualizing the lessons to achieve meaningful milestones of life. It is the strategy to build a long-term relationship with success being driven by wise collaborators as masterminds.
Leading research states that on average, leaders contribute, to about 20% of the success of the organization while followership represents 70% to 90%. The inconvenient truth that we fail to acknowledge is that we follow more than we lead. In perspective, if why refuse to follow, how can we expect others to follow us? To encapsulate, a follower is the one who pursues a course of action in common with a leader to achieve the organizational goal. A true follower is the future leader. Today, the time has come when we should cultivate the habit of followership, learn the basics of leadership and execute the lessons when the time comes.
Robert Kelly, a professor at Carnegie Melon University, pioneered the styles of followership in 1988 and I have found the styles very relevant for our context.
You have read about the typology in the previous page, each type is a follower but interestingly most of them are not efficient. It also demands the attention that some followers are needed for the organization to keep the office running smoothly whereas some are deemed as the future of the company.
Passive followers are those who are dependent on others, they do not have the capacity to think critically and remain passive in the organization. Robert Kelly calls them ‘Sheep’. These types of people are those who are satisfied with their position and do not prioritize growth. They function in order to complete the task without any attention to innovation. To them, life is unfair, the world is cruel, bosses are horrible and successful colleagues are intimidating and exasperating.
Conformist followers are also dependent on others. Although they do not have critical thinking brain but are very active in the organization. Robert considers them as ‘yes men’. They basically take on any task they are delegated and act according to their superiors’ instructions. Lacking the power of judgment, they compensate as very good executioners. They are sometimes well paid and well appreciated as they implement instructions without much questioning. They enjoy the fact that they are retained but never feel that they are brutally used to get things done. However, these people generally tend to suffer from age.
These types of people who are nonaligned; they have a high level of critical thinking but they remain passive in organizational activities, expecting high performance from others without anything in return. They usually take shelter of their good education from reputed universities, metropolitan locality, and social status. As they are very talented and brainy, they tend to be heard by the youth who often get misled by their hollow logic.
Exemplary followers are those who are independent; have a high level of critical thinking and they are very active in organizational performance. They are the superstars of the company, formulating the bench-strength of the organization. They focus on implementing the instructions and bringing about the results. Despite facing criticism from the alienated group, it is a factor that is rather trivial in their perspective. Even when they are the victims of a situation, they manage to recover with resilience.
Pragmatist followers are those who have attributes from all of the other groups. They represent the qualities from all mannerisms in times of need and work in peace, a quality that makes them the heart of the organization. They play a very strong role within the organization and maintain a balance to keep their job safe, growing with time and finding their niche. They do not have fame or popularity but they have a secured lifestyle.
Observing and Acting
Although it is a difficult task, being an exemplary follower means being a future leader. So, the common qualities such as working hard, taking a risk or utilizing opportunities are utterly indispensable. Moreover, my observations and experience have allowed me to observe the following points to inculcate followership:
1. Have Respect for Leaders and their Solutions
While working in an organization, we have to respect the leader while keeping in mind that we have to strongly voice the ways for the solution. Learning to balance the respect for the leader while discussing a solution that they may not agree with is the key. Being unable to do so can prove to be extremely detrimental to growth.
2. Find a Mentor
In life, having a mentor is nothing short of having a roof over your head. We should have them guide us, to motivate us when prospects are grim, and criticize and correct our mistakes. However, we have to drive ourselves to outshine our mentors in every positive way so that they feel proud of us.
3. Be Coachable
Learning is a survival tool. The day we stop learning is the day we stop growing. Therefore, we have to have an open mind to be instructed by the respective figure at any given time. Being trainable interprets into the ability to grow; being coachable ultimately leads to advancement.
4. Keep a low-profile
Showing off is a precarious attitude that destroys the good-will. As a future leader, one should never boast their educational background, impeccable speaking abilities, brilliant presentation skills or writing style. We have to adopt humility in behavior and retain a low profile so that every seasoned professional feels comfortable to share their thoughts. However, we should not forget to behave ourselves.
5. Respect Everyone
Nurturing the habit of showing respect while putting on a friendly face is a great display of potential leadership. Regardless of their hierarchy, one has to truly respect and treat them in a befitting manner. Exchanging pleasantry with an office cleaner indicates that one has a wholeheartedness to lead the world courageously.
Last but not the least, anyone can be a leader if they do not lose sight of the perspective that leaders can also be followers. If you are a great follower, you are a true future leader.
Accompany the best in order to become the smartest.