Managing Employee Relationships: Valuing Followership and Choice

Vicki Noel

What are the barriers to doing this?

People in leadership positions sometimes confuse their “position” with “power”.  This is easily understood.  Leaders have a great deal of responsibility and accountability for successful outcomes.  This is significant pressure.  And I honestly do not know any leader who doesn’t want to perform well both personally and organizationally.  The thing that we most often forget is the path to organizational performance is paved 99.9% by those we serve, NOT through our individual efforts.  The conductor leading the orchestra does not play a single note of the symphony.  It is only through the players’ willingness or choice to follow that the beautiful music results.

Why is it important to do anyway?

When fear enters the relationship, honest feedback to the leader is lost, along with opportunities for creative idea sharing and contributions.  Trustworthy leaders strive to encourage their workforce to choose to follow because of their commitment rather than compliance.  They believe that they have power “through” other’s contributions as opposed to having power “over” their workforce.  Because ultimately, following is a choice each of us makes every day.  We choose to follow those who respect us, listen to our input and demonstrate they are leading with the best interest of the organization at heart.  Warren Bennis once stated “Followers who tell the truth and leaders who listen, are an unbeatable combination.”

How can you do it?

  1. Ask followers for their input prior to decisions being made.  Adults are more likely to follow someone that acknowledges them and accepts their input.  “Because I said so,” didn’t engender a sense of followership when we were children…and certainly less as adults.  Your workforce is more likely to follow you if they trust the direction you are taking them.  They are more likely to trust your direction if they are confident that you have heard their input.
  2. Let people make choices that they are best equipped to make.  There is a saying that I try to follow as often as possible in my leadership and parenting roles…“If I can say yes…why not?”  If there are decisions or choices that those I serve can make…why not let them?  If I can say “yes” to ideas and suggestions, as they don’t hurt the organizational direction or compromise a Strategic Value…why not?  The exercise of asking myself “why not” has been very helpful in my growth as a leader.
  3. Know when to lead…and when to follow.  There is often a misperception that leaders need to have everything figured out.  On the contrary…trustworthy leaders are comfortable passing the ball when someone they work with has more knowledge or a better idea than themselves.  Stepping back and following someone else’s lead demonstrates that you trust those you serve.  This allows your workforce to take chances at leading projects and processes for their development.

Think of a leader you would “follow anywhere.”  What are some of the behaviors this leader demonstrates that encourages your followership?

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