Want to be a great leader? Learn how to become a great follower
If you are in a leadership position, something that you may not have considered before is just how important it is to be a good follower.
Let’s explore what it means to be a follower, how you can do it well and how it can benefit your business, your life and those that you care most about.
How being a leader and a follower are linked
Sometimes you will be the one leading- in your role at work, at home, in certain situations like a sports event, a social outing, or an emergency situation. In these situations we are called upon to be calm, compassionate, reliable, inspiring and empathetic.
It is a great privilege, as by leading we can bring out the best in others, and it is also, paradoxically, a huge challenge which can be a heavy burden at times.
So have you ever stopped to think that for most of the time in your life, you are actually being a follower?
Let’s look at what that actually means, and give you some ways to enjoy this aspect of your life as much as possible.
We are doing it wrong- let’s not tear each other down
• Religious leaders.
• Company managers.
• Family members.
• Strangers online.
We can see so many examples of seemingly poor leaders, looking online, without even leaving the house. They lie, cheat, hurt others and we vicariously can often pass judgement on them, imagining that we would surely do a better job. And perhaps that is the case, or perhaps not.
What I think is a better use of our mental energy and focus is to see how we can support and help these leaders, to help their causes and to bring about the positive changes and impacts in the world which we all want.
So let’s remember this:
Leadership can be lonely and very difficult
So let’s be the ones who support, who encourage our leaders, who by being active and positive followers, can always find a way forwards, as they say in spanish, ¡juntos!
7 ways that you can be a great follower
1 Recognise when it’s not your time to lead
I remember the first time I made a big mistake with this.
It was my first year in teaching, and I had developed that teaching voice (I’m sure you know the one). It’s a tone of voice that can be excellent for establishing a calm authority in a room full of children, not so much with fellow adults…
“Don’t you use your teaching voice ON ME!” My brother, a fellow teacher, exclaimed at me.
I had fallen into the common trap of thinking I could just carry on being a teacher outside of the school, talking to fellow adults like children, and expecting them to listen and respond to me. I hadn’t even noticed that I was doing it.
So take a minute to think about where and when you are in a leadership position- the physical/online places, times, and with which people. Chances are, that a lot of the time you actually won’t be:
• On webinars
• Out shopping
• With your family and friends
I find there is a great power in this anonymity.
No one is looking to you for answers or help, you can just enjoy being part of the crowd.
1. Family time – 44%
2. A happy home – 43%
3. Your physical health – 41%
4. Your mental health – 38%
5. Faithfulness in your relationship – 35%
I have found this belief to also be shared by other countries around the world too.
2 Commit to learning from others
There are over 7 billion people in the world as well as you.
That is wonderful, as that means you have over 7 billion people that you can potentially learn from!
Now, not all of those people may be able to help you, or bring you to a better place. But a huge amount of them will. Try seeing and wearing your learning lightly, like a t shirt. You can take it off and learn something new. And by being open and willing to learn from others, you can empower them towards both being able to help you, and wanting to do so. Your peers, your family, your friends, people online, your clients: there are so many teachers that will appear in front of you, when you are open and willing to learn from them.
3 Enjoy the freedom of being a follower
There’s no need to consistently put pressure on yourself to do everything alone, allow others to help you!
When you are a follower, you can spend time listening, watching, observing, asking questions, seeing what things are like from the other end of the fence. As someone who does a lot of teaching and leading, I love to be in the role of the learner and the follower. If I attend online training, I love to take notes and ask questions and trust in the knowledge of the person leading the session.
Try this out. Write down some topics that hugely interest you, either professionals or personally. And google search free online training webinars for these topics. And just attend one. Then whilst there, fully give yourself over to being a learner, a participant in the session. You may well find it liberating and inspiring! I often do so and it always gives me ideas to take back into my life. Give it a try.
4 Be active and supportive in your following
Stay interested, keep building relationships, keep learning, commit to improving both as a follower and in what you are following.
It is so important that we keep encouraging fellow leaders, creators and those putting themselves out there to help others. So here’ are some very practical ways that you can do this as a follower, both online and in person.
• Get into the habit of leaving supportive comments on your network’s online platforms, every day. You could leave 5-10 comments in only 5 minutes. It doesn’t take long at all, and those people will really appreciate it.
• Send “how are you?” texts to your close people every week.
• At meetings, in the office or at networking events, ask people what they are currently working on that is exciting for them-then be patient, quiet and allow them to talk.
• Write a list of 3 causes that are very important to you, and commit to researching the latest news and developments about them for 20 minutes a week, and an hour every quarter.
5 Become other orientated
I would highly recommend that you read or listen to The trust based selling ‘fieldbook’ by Charles H Green and Angela P Howe.
I have learned so much from it, and it reinforced for me, something that I feel to be so important. This is that the best thing you can do to help you to lead better and succeed in business, is to become more and more focused and orientated towards other people: their successes, their dreams, their problems, their interests.
This can actually be more challenging than it sounds, and hopefully, the suggested book can give you some in depth help with how to do this.
Here are some extra suggestions to help you to become more other orientated:
• Find out 3 facts about your closest people at work and in life and commit them to memory.
• Find a charity or cause to support with your time, money or energy.
• Consider what resources or assets you currently have which could be shared and/or enjoyed by others.
• Try following a new sport or team and learning about its rules and the players
6 Separate the person from the cause
When you see examples of bad leadership, make a conscious effort to separate the person demonstrating the behaviour from the cause that they are representing. This can save you from potentially losing massive value in your life by not engaging in worthwhile causes, because of the failings of a small number of people.
Here are some suggested ways that you could approach this.
An example from democracy
The party leader may not be your favourite person, but you still believe in democracy and in the party you represent. Or if you even do not believe in the party anymore, you still follow and believe in democracy.
An example from business
Your chair of the board or CEO makes a decision that you highly disagree with. You choose to talk to her and find out their reasons. You still don’t agree with it, but agree to support them and role it out in the best way possible, for the good of your business.
An example from music
You love a band’s music, but then find out something negative about the members, or they do something you don’t agree with. You separate them as human beings from the music they make and continue to enjoy their music; whilst allowing yourself to not have to agree with either their opinions or actions.
An example from relationships
A family member, who is a parent, is very tired and not acting like themselves. You offer to help them out with their children, they say no thank you. They continue to be snappy and aggressive, so you make an effort to be understanding and calm towards them and the situation, telling them you are there for them, if they need anything.
7 Unfollow and let go of those that you want to
You only have so much energy and focus that you can give in any one day. Make an effort to unfollow, unfriend and unsubscribe from all the people and company’s which bring you down and do not add value to your life.
We can often engage with so many people and situations, just out of habit, or simply because we have done so for many years. You do not have to do this. Lovingly let go of those who you know will not lead you into a better place. You can always re-engage in the future, if you choose to. But for now, try focusing on actively supporting, following and learning from those who have you best interests at heart.
3 ways to put being a great follower into practice
Write a list of who you follow and what you currently follow.
I follow my line manager
I follow my older sisters and my boyfriend in some ways
I follow my women’s football team
I follow several bands
I follow 3 CPD organisations
I subscribe to 10 email subscriptions
I follow no religion
I follow my interests in mountain biking, speaking Italian and gardening
I follow a certain politically party
Create and answer self reflection questions in relation to the 7 points
Which of these are good or bad for me?
Could I let go of some of these our update and change some?
What am I learning currently in my fellowship?
How can I be a better follower in these areas?
Pick one point of the 7 and take action with it this week, this month, this quarter and this year.
This week I will attend an online webinar to learn about a new topic from my important list
This month I will ask myself my self reflection questions and write down the answers to improve my month for next month
At the end of this quarter I will review 3 months of my self reflection questions and actions taken
Once a year I will sit down with a piece of paper and go through the 7 following areas and plan out some improvements that I can make to improve my life
The number one reason why many businesses are failing at the moment is because they cannot adapt and be agile in our current rapidly changing business world.
In order to be adaptive and agile, we need to be active, intelligent followers of excellent material, from excellent sources and excellent people.
Leveraging the experience and knowledge of others, as well as supporting them to be even better will create an interdependent dynamic that will enrich us as followers, leaders and most importantly, as human beings.
Love and best wishes to you on your journey.