Dr. Laurent M. Lapierre, Professor, Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa
In the past, leadership theory and practice has traditionally favored the leader in discussions of how leadership can advance organizational effectiveness. But what about the follower and the part they have to play?
Followers are essential to any organization. Without followers you have no leaders and without proactively engaged followers there is little room for company growth. Proactive followers are not “yes people.” They support their leaders by questioning their assumptions and offering competing views on how to overcome important challenges. In the current climate, a lack of proactive followership may lead to company-wide failure.
Leadership experts often portray followers as employees who concede to a leader’s direction and are passive recipients of orders and guidance. Few have explored how followers can act as proactive partners in the leadership process. Creating proactive followers depends on individual identity building and setting high but achievable expectations.
How do you do this?
Train your staff to be independent thinkers:
By creating training opportunities aimed at specifically building independent thinking, staff will become more comfortable and effective in sharing their own, value-added views. This may even inspire others to do the same.
Allow followers to question their leader and peers:
An effective follower shares the common goal of their leader but they need to be able to think for themselves and solve problems. This involves an employee who needs to be able to constructively criticize their leaders’ thinking by not only voicing disagreement, but also carefully explaining the logical basis for the disagreement.
Build a group identity:
Social identity theory suggests that an individual’s identification within a group creates a more cohesive sense of belonging and the identity is that of a supportive group membership. For example, by forming a group that prides itself as innovative and independent thinkers, individuals will strive to project that behavior.
Create an environment open to risk taking and failure:
Risk taking is vital to proactive followership, let alone the growth of a business. Risk can be big or small but leaders should actively encourage a safe environment where followers can actively engage in their work. To practically implement this in a business, design small projects for followers to start from the beginning and work through. This will enable them to fail (and achieve) in a controlled environment, and take steps to learn from their mistakes and gain the confidence they need to proactively follow their leaders.
The old adage a happy workforce is a productive workforce had never been more applicable in today’s market. Previous studies suggest that when an individual is happy, or is experiencing positive emotions, their perspective and cognitive scope enables them to think more effectively and explore new ideas.
About the Author
Dr. Laurent Lapierre is a Full Professor at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He is the author of Followership: What is it and Why Do People Follow, from global academic publisher, Emerald Group Publishing. The book provides a collection of new insights on the increasingly popular topic of Followership and readers of The CEO Magazine can access the chapter ‘Why and How Should Subordinates Follow Their Managers?’ at www.emeraldinsight.com/tk/Follow