Do you want to be a successful leader at your workplace? Learn the art of creating followership with people who work for you. Followership is the capacity of an individual to actively follow a leader and is the reciprocal social process of leadership. Without followers, you are a meandering tourist. Ask yourself: Why should anybody follow me? What can I do to create strong empowered followers who carve out a success story with me? Here is what you can do.
Types of followers
Learn to recognise your followers and deal with them accordingly. According to the scholar Robert Kelly, your followers can be identified across two dimensions of behaviour— ability to think critically and whether they are active-positive or passive-negative.
Couch potatoes: They are low on energy and do not think for themselves. They require direction and motivation from you. A substantial part of your thinking is dedicated to figuring out how to get them up and going in the required direction. Use the principle of authority to persuade them. Your authority either comes from your position in the organisation or from your expertise.
Soldiers: The patriots. They are high on energy with complete commitment to either you as a leader or the cause you espouse. They are not independent critical thinkers though. They require least amount of your energy once you give them a clear path to follow. They will also defend your leadership against all opposition even when you are absent. Use the principles of liking and commitment to get them to act. Hold them accountable to the promises they make, their devotion to the goal and their loyalty to you. They are the first people or early adopters who you should convert to your cause. Thereafter they become active recruiters in your quest to create followership.
Fence-sitters: Also the pragmatists —they are in the middle on both the energy and thinking axis. They will rarely follow an unconventional idea or leader. Wait and watch is their style. Once they find your leadership is widely accepted, they will jump in too. They will also leave along with the herd if your leadership appears to be faltering. Use the principle of social proof to buy them in. Show them how your vision has been widely accepted. Target them last for followership.
Entrepreneurs: They are high on energy, positive in their contributions and are independent thinkers. They challenge your thinking and are not afraid to speak their mind. Once they are rationally convinced of the path you have chosen, they require no supervision and can solve problems on their own. Use the principle of reciprocity to get their followership. Give them equal voice in discussions and get them to participate in decision making. They will reciprocate with complete commitment. For best results, engage them before you embark on your task. Groom them to be future leaders.
Rebels: Rebels are independent thinkers who are negative. They may either resent you or your cause or think of themselves as people who have been wronged or denied the leadership mantle. They will oppose and question every decision or action that you take and slow down progress. Use the principle of scarcity to deal with them. Give them rare individual roles where they can exercise their thinking ability and perceived competence if they choose to. Isolate them so their influence on your team is minimal.
What persuades followers?
Character: Your character or ethos is a major influence on whether people are persuaded to follow you. Do you honour your word to people? They perceive you as reliable. Do you stand for their honour, welfare and growth? You are known to be caring. Are you straight in your communication with them even when there is bad news? You are respected for your honesty. Now people can trust you as a credible leader and thus find it easier to follow you.
Emotion: You create followers when you evoke positive emotions in them. There are two ways to do so. Firstly, people like you when you are good to them, they can identify with you because of similarities and when they perceive you to be human and vulnerable. Secondly, people love to be inspired. When you articulate a vision that gives them hope and offer stability in the face of crises they are inclined to take ownership of the dream and follow you to the finish.
Logic: People want to work in their best interests and are generally rational in their pursuit. As a leader, reframe the common goal to align with their individual goals. People want to follow leaders who support them in their careers in return for their efforts. Offer them the path to growth and the resources to do so in exchange for their followership and energy.
Why work so hard?
Recognise that leadership is a constant challenge. If you visibly fail in your role, your followers will speak amongst themselves, gossip about what’s going wrong and spread the bad word. Then the first person refuses to follow either you or your vision. Then he chooses to leave your team or gets disengaged from his work. Know that followers behave in herds. You first start losing followers in ones and twos. Soon other people follow and everyone walks out together. As a good leader, stay attuned to what’s happening, figure out what the issue is and constantly tweak your style of leadership to prevent an exodus of your followers.
Good leaders are good followers first
As a great follower and future leader, first develop competence. If you have greater ability and knowledge, you will be valued more than peers. Constantly upgrade knowledge by learning or working with experts. Finally – deliver the results!
While still a follower, develop the capacity to think. Think through problems and work out possible solutions. Compare your solution with that of your leader. Learn to work without supervision so that your leader can delegate work to you.
A critical part of gaining your leader’s trust is to be honest in your dealings with your workplace and its resources as well as in communication. Your leader deserves your constructive inputs. Where a bad leader is immune to your inputs, you can consider speaking to his supervisor.
Dedication and commitment is your obligation to the organisation. It helps you contribute to the energy and morale of your colleagues, helps resolve problems and helps in working beyond differences in opinion. The loyalty is to the common goal.
Mastering verbal communication is important for you both as a follower and a future leader. Observe those who are skilled in this art. Learn to exercise discretion to determine when to speak and when to hold your ego. How you speak will determine your acceptability.