Courtesy of our partners at Deakin University, Australia
One element of leadership that’s rarely talked about is followers – it’s tough to lead without them!
Now, we’re not talking about the millions of followers following Instagram influencers, but the followership displayed by high performing teams. And it may surprise you to discover that many of the qualities of good followership are the same as those required for leadership.
What is followership?
In its most basic form, followership describes the behaviours of subordinates – the leader’s team members. In the same way that effective leadership is less about command and control and more about support and deliverables, effective followership is less about following instructions and more about making a valuable contribution.
One of history’s most famous followers was Thomas Jefferson. Now considered one of the founding fathers of the United States, he initially was a junior member of the committee that wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was assigned the task of writing the historical document by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. It wasn’t until eight years after the Declaration of Independence was signed that his role was revealed.
There are two particularly interesting things about Thomas Jefferson as a follower. Firstly, he thought that John Adams should be the one to write the declaration, but Adams exemplified the leader-follower exchange by insisting that Jefferson was the best person for the job. Secondly, Jefferson went on to become the third President of the United States of America – one of the most senior leadership roles in the world.
What are the characteristics of effective followership?
There’s a great deal of crossover between leadership skills and the skills required for good followership. Five of the most important are commitment, communication, collaboration, credibility and competence. Let’s take a look at each of these qualities in more detail.
Effective leaders display high levels of commitment – to themselves, to others, to their organisation, to the truth and to leadership itself. Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes is a prime example of commitment in practice. Obviously, he was committed to the success of his start-up, which listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2015. But since then he’s shown a massive commitment to sustainable practices and even a commitment to himself and others to be more human.
Commitment is particularly important to the servant leadership style, where leaders prioritise their focus on followers above all else – including organisational concerns. So, to be effective in achieving organisational goals, these leaders depend on their followers’ commitment to organisational concerns. Success depends on a two-way exchange of commitment, highlighting the importance of commitment as both a followership and leadership skill.
Warren Buffet is known for telling business graduates that their qualifications will only get them so