LeADeRSHiP HAS BeeN DiSCUSSeD SO OFTeN in books and
papers that seemingly everything that could be written about it has
been written already. But i’m willing to add my two cents with a twist—
the need for high-quality followers.
Not everyone is cut out to be, or even
wants to be, a leader. Some question
whether it’s worth the stress or whether
they have the ego needed to make key
decisions (and face the adverse consequences and second guessing should
those decisions be wrong). Often, it
just seems like it’s easier to be a good
But I believe that everyone is both a leader and a follower at the same time. Even a
CEO has his or her investors. Spouses have
each other. Even the president of the United
States has his voters and his polls.
Good followers usually lead their boss-
es, intentionally or not, through means
that are both obvious and subtle. They
do this without taking on the undesirable
side effects of leadership (but also usually
not reaping all of its rewards).
When both the follower and leader recognize
and respect what each is good at doing,
pulling together as a team
and giving credit where it’s due,
the organization becomes
that much stronger.
be able to take orders but also has to be
adaptable to the circumstance, keeping
in mind what’s in the team’s best interest. In some situations, orders and rules
morph into guidelines. In other types of
organizations, there can be more freedom of action, but the effect is the same.
A good follower doesn’t have to be satisfied with taking orders, but should be
able to recognize when the leader has it
right. It’s also desirable to have the ability
to enhance existing concepts, be curious or skeptical when appropriate, and
create new strategies in a manner that is
acceptable to the leader (and be able to
understand if, at the end of the day, the
old way proves the better option). In some
areas of work, a good follower has the interest and ability to improve a product or
service so that it works more efficiently or
enhances customer satisfaction.
The follower influences—and in
many cases is responsible for—the success of the boss, whether by taking
well-calculated risks, by quantitative
assessments, or through gut feelings.
When both the follower and leader recognize and respect what each is good at
doing, pulling together as a team and
giving credit where it’s due, the organization becomes that much stronger.
Being a follower also can lead to
becoming the next level’s leader. In a multi-level organization, the distinction is more
obvious. A challenge facing any size or
type of organization is enabling followers
to exercise their followership skills. Some
organizations unfortunately lack the ability to appreciate and recognize this.
Still, to the extent that each person
utilizes effective leadership and followership skills, the organization—and
every individual in it—benefits.
JeAN HiN / STOCk iLLUSTRATiON SOURCe
SAM GUTTERMAN, a member of the
Academy, is director and consulting
actuary with PricewaterhouseCoopers
LLP in Chicago.