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The Art of Followership: How to Be an Invaluable Team Player

Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor

Being a good follower is just as important as being a good leader. Learn the art of "followership" and make yourself an invaluable team player.

  • Following is just as important as leading.
  • It is critical to understand the qualities a good follower should possess.
  • Leaders can become followers.

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 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 also support the company as a whole. They make the goals and visions of their supervisors a reality, as well as add their creative input to improve upon these objectives.

Good followers also can shape their managers into better leaders. [Read related article: 4 Ways Entry-Level Employees Can Show Leadership]

Followers "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, associate dean of the faculty at the Kravis Leadership Institute at Claremont McKenna College, told Fast Company.

What is followership?

"Many of the same qualities that we admire in leaders ... are the same qualities that we want in the very best followers," Riggio told Fast Company.

Even so, not everyone wants to be a leader. Some people eschew management positions because they would rather do the actual work than deal with the bureaucracy, paperwork and meetings that come with leadership roles.

Others may recognize that they need to focus their time and energy elsewhere, such as on family needs or a hobby. Some want to learn the ropes before moving into positions of greater responsibility. Regardless of the reason, people who assume the role of follower play a vital part in any business.

"We each have different talents. Some people are not temperamentally suited to be managerial-level people," said Patricia Clason, a 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?" she said. "Not what brings you a title, not what brings you money, not what brings you prestige – what brings you satisfaction."

What are the qualities of a good follower?

Here are seven important followership skills. 

  • Motivation: A good follower is motivated to work hard, do a good job and achieve results. This type of person is driven by the goal of finishing a job.

  • Courage: Someone with followership skills has the courage to confront their leader with the problems they see with the person in charge.

  • Service: A follower must see themselves as someone who serves others rather than the priority or the reason something is happening.

  • Dedication: A good follower is dedicated to their leader. A follower can be loyal and committed to their leader while maintaining judgment and honesty.

  • Work ethic: Someone who is a good follower is also a good worker. This person is motivated and committed, and pays attention to the details of the business. This person shows up every day ready to work.

  • Good judgment: It is important for a follower to take direction, but they must consider what is being asked of them. To have good judgment, a person must understand the difference between following directions and knowing which instructions are not ethical. That person must be able to say no to something.

  • Honesty: As a follower, one makes a commitment to be honest. A follower must understand that while being honest, they also must be polite and respect the people they work with. A follower must be able to provide constructive feedback. 

Why is followership important?

Across the globe, followership has not been considered a positive quality as much as it should be. Followers are on their path to becoming leaders, and the qualities you learn by following can assist you greatly on your path. Followers in the right position can influence their leader and decisions that are being made.

Leading through followership

Being a good follower doesn't always mean taking the back seat, however. Good followers can become good leaders, and doing so doesn't always require a promotion.

"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, Babbitt said.

"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."

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