The Importance of Followership

We’ve all heard about leadership and all the positive benefits that come with it. Success, a good reputation and a glamorous role in projects.


Imagine being in charge of one of the many vaccination centres in Singapore. But you are leading a group of passive and clueless safe-distancing volunteers, registration attendants and doctors who can only do what they are told and nothing else. How effective can you be in the event of an unexpected development or a change in protocol by the government?


What’s a good leader without a good team?


Being an effective follower is not as simple as doing whatever you’re told. There are skills that you have to develop to be a good follower, a good team player.


Followership is just as important as leadership.


What’s more, a good grasp of followership will actually boost your ability to be an effective leader. After all, there is nothing better than leading by example.


What is followership?


Followership is the response of those in junior positions to those in senior ones. Therefore, to be a good leader, you will have to start off as a follower. But followership is more than just passively doing whatever your manager, boss or senior colleagues tell you to do—these are passive followers.


Good followers are different.


They take responsibility for their actions. They function as self-sufficient individuals who engage in critical thinking when given a project or task in order to add value to their interaction and support of the project/task objectives.


They influence and affect the leader’s views. They voice their opinions, give alternative ideas and suggestions, and avoid adding to the mindless consensus within the group. As important as being united is, thinking the same way as everybody else is not a hallmark of a good follower.


The effect of followership


A Harvard Business Review article cites the example of a large commercial bank in 1987 struggling to reorganise itself in a crisis and had to hand over the work of reorganisation to a group of staff without a leader, because the upper management was engaged in putting out other fires.


They had to write their own job descriptions, design a training program, determine criteria for performance evaluations, plan operational needs and help to achieve overall organisational objectives.


They did it all, despite being run-of-the-mill employees who were never given this much responsibility before. These employees who were able to control and direct themselves without leadership saved the bank months of turmoil as they struggled to remain a major bank in the region.


These employees—followers—achieved what other teams needed hands-on, motivational leaders to help them do.


How did they accomplish this? They thought for themselves, sharpened their critical thinking and were self-motivated.


They followed effectively.


This example might be old, but the same wisdom of followership remains critical today, given our volatile COVID-19 situation. Leaders are responsible for creating an environment that is conducive for good followers, ensuring followers are communicative, comfortable raising doubts, and giving feedback.


But followership says that we, as team members, should take the initiative to add value to the team, challenge the consensus with better alternatives, and take responsibility for our part of the work.


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