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While leadership has become a billion-dollar industry, generating reams of print, not too much is said about the other part of the equation – the followers. Understanding the dynamics of this relationship – which we often choose to ignore, at our own peril, is crucial to ensure a mutually beneficial leader-follower collaboration.

The nexus of this equation is that respect and trust work both ways; if either party overlooks this, then the seeds of a relationship, fraught with potential risks, are sown. Too often, followers play the sycophancy game, resorting to flattery to deceive. This could either be the subordinate’s fault, the organisational culture, or simply the leader’s vanity; all of these engender obsequiousness which crushes employees’ morale, and their only concern is survival. 

To become an effective and dynamic follower, you need to adopt attributes of integrity, positivity, reliability and honesty. A relationship founded on these pillars allows for discussion and two-way communication that encourage feedback.

Followership requires you to be able to ‘manage upwards’. This entails gaining as much insight into the leader’s background and motivations as possible, identifying the values that are important to him/her and respecting them; equally important is that you do not cross personal or professional boundaries. Just because you enjoy a ‘friendly relationship’ with your boss, does not mean you can, or should, take liberties.

In addition to this, you should also be able to separate your ego from the issues under discussion, especially when it involves your performance evaluation. By setting aside your personal feelings, you ensure that discussions are not clouded by biases and conversations reveal not just problems, but solutions as well.

Remember, like you, leaders have frailties too. Pride, ego, hubris and the sense of entitlement become more pronounced as you go up the hierarchy. To make matters worse, our own expectations mean that we put leaders on impossible pedestals that we ourselves would have a hard time dealing with. Just know that the way you judge leaders is how you will also be judged when you rise up the ladder.

Leadership requires managing many paradoxes; as followers, you need to be equally flexible.

– Leon Menezes                                                                                                      The writer is a senior HR practitioner, professor-of-practice and an executive coach. 

First published in the ADBUZZZZ Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on November 9, 2014.

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