Monday, July 14, 2014

6 Qualities of a Great Follower

Leadership is a popular topic.  I mean, who doesn't secretly or not-so-secretly want to be known as a great leader?  When we read the stories of the past, we all see ourselves as the one who would be sitting in the same seat as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, or Marie Curie.  But why so little love for the follower?  After all, each of these leaders would be nothing without a legion of faithful and gifted followers.

This summer I had the opportunity to join my son on a hike at Philmont Ranch in New Mexico.  We went on this journey with my son's boy scout troop.  There were 20 hikers total and I place myself squarely in the follower role.  I don't like, enjoy, nor have much knowledge about hiking and camping so I was looking to my leaders to make this a positive endurable experience.  During this 13 day journey of 75 miles where we ascended and descended 4000 feet I learned some lessons about how to  be a good follower.  I hope these will help you as you contemplate your critical role as a follower.

1.  Ask questions to become better informed

I was completely at the mercy of our lead navigator and guide.  At the outset, I wasn't clear about our daily direction or course and was not always given the information that I felt would help me attack each day with confidence.  The more I asked questions, the better I understood the overall scope of our trek and the daily expectations of the trail.  By asking questions, I helped our leaders see what was clear and ambiguous about our journey. I found the leader began to anticipate our questions as the adventure continued and provide the kind of information that we found helpful.  If I had continued in silence, all of us would have been less comfortable and informed.  Great followers ask questions to be informed and "in the know"

2.  Before a decision is made, give your open and honest opinions freely

There came several times during our hike that we had to make decisions about which trail to take or which activity we would attempt.  During those times I stated my preference or asked clarifying questions as did others.   Great followers offer their opinions with openness, honest, and respect.

3.  After the decision is made, enthusiastically embrace the decision and help make it successful

Unless the decision is not the decision you preferred!  Actually this last statement IS NOT a trait of a good follower.  Remember, you are the follower, not the leader.   The leaders is the decision maker and, if you want to be a great follower, from time to time you will need to invest your energy and enthusiasm in a decision that you did not wholeheartedly endorse.  A good follower will put his head down and make every effort to see this course through successfully.  Great followers implement decisions even those for which they disagree, as if it was their decision.

4.  Allow yourself to be influenced by the passions of your leader.

Did I mention that I don't like hiking and camping?   However, I noticed that most of the participants of this adventure were truly excited and enthusiastic about this opportunity so it got me wondering, "What is it about hiking and camping that entices these men so much?"  I tried to maintain a positive attitude (very challenging) and keep my grumbling and complaining to a minimum (didn't do so well there!).  In the end, I tasted a little of the feeling of accomplishment and sense of adventure that seems to drive these fellas.  I won't say that I'm planning a trek into the Sierras with a toothbrush and a space blanket, but at least I look back on our trip with some fondness for what we overcame and experienced.  Great followers allow themselves to be influenced by their leaders.

5.  Take initiative to take responsibilities

It's very easy to be a passive follower.  It's possible to only do what you are required to do or directly asked to do.  You won't really get any grief for this approach as no one is expecting more.  However, I noticed there was no shortage of tasks to be accomplished so I took it upon myself to learn how to put up and take down the bear bags (food and smellables that needed to be put up in bags 30-50 feet in the air so the bears wouldn't come visit our camp).   Doing this one small task made our camp set up and take down go a little smoother and it felt satisfying to contribute something beyond the minimum.  Great followers take initiative and learn new skills.

6.  Provide aid and assistance to your peers.

A leader can't be every where at all times.  Our daily hiking regimen meant that we were hiking in a single file line with 10 people back to back.  One one treacherous hike we were descending a narrow canyon trail that had some tricky spots.  One of our hikers was struggling and anxious on his way down.  He was assisted for a couple miles by a dad who took it upon himself to provide individual guidance, modeling, and encouragement.  This task could not have been done by the leader even if he wanted to since he was out front navigating our direction.  This follower (Mr. Warmbier below) provided the perfect assistance for our colleague and made the descent more effective and smooth for the whole squad.  Great followers help one another to strengthen our collective effort.

As we start the 2014-15 school year, it would be a good time to review the qualities of a follower that we embody.  Whether you are a teacher following lead teachers or a principal, whether you are a principal following a superintendent or cabinet, it would behoove us all to be great followers, which will encourage our leaders to be better leaders and make our organizations and schools stronger overall.  Just think what we can accomplish through the efforts of a legion of Stellar followers!  After all, you won't be able to see views like this without a little hardship, dedication, and teamwork!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A great discussion. Looking at it the other way around, I have been following a discussion on how "bad" teachers are very often bad leaders.