No matter how big or small your company is, it's likely that there are more followers than leaders. Many individuals strive for leadership positions, so being content to be a follower is often treated like it's a bad thing. However, the opposite is actually true.
"It may seem like every organization today is hiring for leadership skills," said Mark Babbitt, CEO and founder of YouTern. "But here is a modern day reality: Since the dawn of the Industrial Age, the success of every business can be traced back to those people who roll up their sleeves and get the job done."
Followership matters a lot in an organization. Good followers not only get things done, but they also support the company as a whole. They not only make the goals and visions of their supervisors a reality, but they add their creative input to improving them.
Good followers also have the backbone to shape their managers into better leaders. [See Related Story: 4 Ways Entry-Level Employees Can Show Leadership]
"[They] support and aid the leader when he or she is doing the right thing, and stand up to the leader — having the courage to let the leader know when he or she is doing something wrong or headed in the wrong direction," Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., associate dean of the faculty at the Kravis Leadership Institute at Claremont McKenna College, said in a FastCompany article.
What is followership?
Much has been written about what makes a good follower. Five key skills that come up again and again are motivation, courage, service, dedication, and a strong work ethic.
"Many of the same qualities that we admire in leaders ... are the same qualities that we want in the very best followers," Riggio told FastCompany.
Even so, not everyone wants to be a leader. Some people eschew management positions because they prefer to do the actual work rather than deal with the bureaucracy, paperwork and meetings. Others may recognize that they need to focus their time and mental and emotional energy elsewhere, such as on family needs or an avocation. Some want to learn the ropes before moving to positions of greater responsibility. Regardless of the reason, people who assume the role of follower play a vital role in any business.
"We each have different talents. Some people are not temperamentally suited to be managerial-level people," said Patricia Clason, business coach and speaker on emotional intelligence in the workplace. "It isn't always about being at the top. There are times when we have to let people with more wisdom, more tools, more skills, show us the way."
Clason said the decision of whether to be a leader or a follower in an organization is a personal choice.
"What you need to look at is how do you want to contribute to the world? Not what brings you a title, not what brings you money, not what brings you prestige — what brings you satisfaction," she said.
Leading through followership
Being a good follower doesn't mean always taking the back seat. Good followers can become good leaders, and it doesn't always take a promotion to do it.
"Leadership is fluid [today]," Babbitt said. "The person who was a leader on the last project is a follower on the next, and vice versa. Hierarchy no longer rules the day."
The most important thing a follower can do to make an impact is embrace their role, said Babbitt.
"Without the so-called followers, even the best plan by the brightest leaders would never be executed," he told Business News Daily. "Understand how your spot on the team impacts the bottom line. Find the nobility in a job well done. Then be ready to contribute in every way possible."