Article: Followership (as opposed to leadership)


Followership (as opposed to leadership)

While all the focus over the years has been over creating leaders and world class leadership, sometimes followership is equally important
Followership (as opposed to leadership)

Followership in my opinion is respect for the other person's knowledge and experience and trusting his/her ability to lead a situation


What if the soldiers at Kargill, decided to act in their own way and not follow their commanding officers?


While all the focus over the years has been over creating leaders and world class leadership, sometimes, Followership is also equally important, says Shantanu Dhar, Organizational Effectiveness Head - Dalmia Cements

It was at a Chief Talent Officer conference, that this distinguished Ameri-can gentleman awoke me from my viral induced drowsiness.

It was on a tired Friday evening, when the rest of the corporate world would have gone home to partake of the good things of life that I drove gingerly to the Taj Palace for the above conference. The children had the flu, and my 6--year-old daughter, in the act of letting me in on the world’s biggest secret (you know little girls have these great secrets), coughed directly into my mouth! I knew then on that it was a matter of a day before ol’ Dr. Influenza would claim me as another conquest.

Anyways, here I was sitting at the conference, with the fever beginning to wrap its cold arms comfortably around my bones (the ac didn’t help either), that the gentleman spoke. ‘ A thousand books are written on leadership every year. I don’t recall anyone asking for another one!’

This made me sit up. The first thing that came to my mind was when was the last time someone wrote about followership?

Well, if we are all frothing at the mouth, trying to turn every Tom, Dick & Hari Prasad into effective leaders, have we, for a moment, thought about the people they are going to lead?

Well, we have, you’ll say, we’re trying to turn them into leaders too!

Excellent! I say, and turn around to sleep off my flu.

But no. I can’t. If we are turning everyone into leaders, is that why we are having all these problems with leadership? And… team work? And… collaboration? And… execution? And… alignment? And…

You get the drift…

I am not the expert here… all I have are these sneaky feelings (last time I talked about arrogance as competency, remember?). So, I talk about that sneaky feeling.

When was the last time we saw an ad for a program based on followership? I did Juran on Quality management eleven years ago. While I got most of the techniques, what I didn’t get is that, sublimely, these programs ask you to create a sub culture of followership. Look at Japanese companies!

Ever tried learning karate? I am told (again, I am not the expert here), that you can’t teach unless you have a 10th degree black belt. And when you finally go to learn, you have to do what the Sensei tells you. Imagine telling the sensei, I think it would be a better idea if I was to deliver my side kick in another way….

You get the drift?

When I look back at my training sessions, I learnt best when I did not question my coach. When I took every word of his as the truth!

The times I did not learn, was when I evaluated the coach.

Same goes for the jobs I have done well and ones I have not. Where I have followed, they have been landmarks! Where I haven’t, well...

One of my old friends, who left the IMA during training, did so, because he was told by the Major, ‘We’ll ask you to think once you become a colonel!’

Today when I look back at that comment, it sets me thinking. What if the soldiers at Kargill, decided to act in their own way and not follow their commanding officers?

So, what do we do day in and day out at our workplace? Go into meetings, hear the boss line out his objectives, interrupt and offer our pearls of wisdom (after all we are leaders aren’t we?). When the boss does not like it, we resent that and it comes out in many different ways.

What if we, for a change, just followed? And then our teams followed us and theirs followed them. What would happen?
I am not saying that we don’t give our two bits. We do and then stop. We accept if that is accepted or not.

Think about it, should we start thinking about setting up a ‘Followership Institute’ as opposed to a leadership one?
After all, one does need to be a follower first to be an effective leader, right?

I once worked for the President of one of India’s most successful IT companies. I was handling a labour case at Sydney. The person against whom action was taken shot off a mail to this venerable 60-year-old President who was his boss. I wrote to the Chairman & the President requesting them not to respond to this individual.

I got a crisp reply the next day; ‘We shall do as directed by you.’

This, coming from two gentlemen who were perhaps responsible for India’s IT revolution!

And I was just a lowly senior manager then.

What I learnt from this mail was that, even at that level, with those 30-plus years of experience, they were happy to follow a young gun, because they respected his knowledge in this matter!

On the other hand, let’s explore those countless meetings we come out of, swearing beneath our breaths about the consultant or colleague who has outlined a process. Have we ever tried to examine the amount of time and effort the individual has spent in the matter, before we reject his/her recommendations?

More so, have we spent that time on that process to develop an opinion?

How many of us have faced the following while implementing SAP? ‘Oh, it is so complicated? It is not user friendly…’
A project manager used to sign of his mails:

SAP: Simple After Practice!

And it is true!

The matter as one of my behavioral consultant friends says, is about listening. We stop listening because we believe that listening is conceding. Actually it is not.

There is no real threat in listening. Once we truly listen, alignment happens. Followership occurs soon after.

Again, followership, in my opinion, is not blind. It’s not slavery. It is respect for the other person’s knowledge and experience and simply trusting his/her ability to lead a situation.

The past one year; I have begun to follow. Life has been far simpler since and yes, I sleep the sleep of the innocent!


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Topics: Leadership, Learning & Development, Culture

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