Unleashing the Power of “Followership”

I must admit that I am suffering from “leadership” fatigue. Over the last few weeks, I have read at least a dozen articles recounting either the five or the seven or the ten (or God knows how many) traits and characteristics of successful leaders. Opinions offered by ex-government and military officials, authors, CEO’s, consultants, academicians etc. are extolled and posted everywhere. I’m surprised that no one has published the views of Madonna, Ringo Starr or Sean Penn.

All of these articles seem to have one common theme; they all focus on the traits and characteristics of either the rich, successful, or powerful. Many were written by the already rich, successful and powerful themselves. It is as if we should all aspire to behave in these manners in order to enjoy the fruits of prestige, wealth and celebrity that these fortunate individuals have attained. That’s OK as long as the articles are only meant to inspire. It’s pretty obvious to me that barring some miracle, nothing we do will ever gain us this Nirvana. There is an incredible amount of “luck” involved here.

Anyway, It was on the last “list” that I reviewed, this one excerpted from a new book, that I began to notice something – many if not all of these traits can be found in ordinary folks. This started me thinking about how us ordinary folks view our business leaders in general and workplace leaders in particular. These are the people that most of us working stiffs confront on a day-to-day basis. If the “leaders” can share their views with the rest of us about the traits and characteristics of other leaders and if we all share many of the same traits and characteristics, then not much really separates us. We just haven’t been as lucky. Since the leaders themselves rarely attribute their success to luck, our views should be just as valid.

Leaders cannot lead without “followers.” Everyone has a boss to one extent or another. Just think about it. We are all followers of someone. Even if one happens to be self-employed there are those to look to for affirmation and direction. Yet, although we the “followers” are obviously in the majority here, no one seems to care about how we view leaders and leadership. Sure, you can go to various websites where employees tell stories, complain and vent about bad leaders. Many business pundits and intellectual types, though, routinely dismiss these comments as the rants of the “unwashed” and disgruntled employees. These are complaints and criticisms. They are not being offered as inspiration.

It is a fact they we cannot always choose our bosses and the workplace is certainly NO democracy. Yet in our politically sensitive world, pressure groups often hold some sway with the movers and shakers. So I’m going to invent a new term – Followership: the state of being a follower or being disposed to be a follower. Having officially defined a new status for us ordinary folk, perhaps all of us followers can now exert some pressure on our leaders or on those who appoint and anoint them. Perhaps we can inspire them.

As a certified follower myself (since I have many bosses), I feel it incumbent to share my own views of what I look for in a leader. Here are some characteristics (just four) of the type of individual that I’d like to “lead” me through the working world:

The ability to communicate clearly – Good leaders provide clear direction. They ensure that they are understood both verbally and in writing. They use unambiguous language and request feedback to ensure a meeting of the minds.

The ability to accept responsibility – Everyone makes mistakes. It takes a true leader to admit when they have made one or done something wrong.

The ability to provide support – One cannot perform a job without the proper tools. Good leaders ensure that their followers are adequately supplied, equipped and trained. They make that their business. They do not leave their followers to fend for themselves.

The ability to recognize that a leader is also part of the team – A leader is not separate from those than follow them. Although they have a different and unique role, they must identify with the group being lead and become part of it. Their self-interest can be no more important than that of their followers. If it is, they are no more than cattle herders or slave drivers.

The reward that I offer a leader is not wealth, success or power. It is much more important that than. It is my recognition of them as a leader out of respect rather than for their titles, power or celebrity.

I personally could care less about their “passion” for the business or their pithy slogans and sayings. Arrogance, pomposity and self-promotion have nothing to do with leadership. Most, if not all followers already recognize this.

So what do you think? What do you look for in a leader? Perhaps we can get a trend going here. It’s worth a shot. Help me conduct my own unscientific survey of the “Followership.” Post some comments below. Maybe Madonna, Ringo Starr or Sean Penn will even chime in! Thanks.


2 Responses to “Unleashing the Power of “Followership””

  1. Jamie Says:

    I believe you have nailed it, I wish I had something clever to ad, but I too feel this way. Although, I define success a little differently, I have been very successful in several ventures that haven’t left me in a better financial way. The most recent one I was actually dismissed for my success, it was suspect because it was working so well, imagine that. I have only had the privilage of working in one business where my “leaders” followed the 4 rules you described above, and other than my own experience in low end leadership, I’ve missed it every work morning I woken up. Perhaps you are the one to start the new way of thinking among corporations?

  2. thecorporatecynic Says:

    Thanks for dropping by Jamie. Somethimes I think that I’m just a voice in the wilderness. Keep reading my friend and come back soon. There’s plenty here to keep you busy reading.


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