HARTFORD, CT, May 2014 – We're all followers in some areas of our lives. And in that role, we can learn some important skills that make us better leaders.
Being a good follower doesn’t make you a sheep. The truth is that most of us are in followership roles regularly, perhaps in our families, social circles, or other settings. Here are five skills you learn as a good follower that make you a better leader.
1. Awareness. Today, leaders need to be aware of various audiences including colleagues, co-workers, customers, and the public at large. As a leader, you need to be aware of what it takes to “bring them along.” Being a follower teaches you how to be aware of the needs of other people. Good followers learn to read people and understand what upsets and motivates them.
2. Diplomacy. When good followers encounter a co-worker with rabid beliefs or a disagreeable manager, they’re probably not going to fight every battle. Playing the part of the follower is easier, simpler, and often less risky. Good followers learn how to get along with those who have differences while not ignoring those differences. That’s an important leadership trait, too, because a leader or manager can’t afford to be oblivious to the attitudes of those around him or her.
3. Courage. Being a good follower means having the courage to dissent if you think your leader, manager, or superior, is doing something wrong. That’s not always easy, but it requires the guts and strength of conviction that are essential to good leadership. Being a good follower is complicated in ways that are rather similar to being a good leader. It means being engaged. It means paying attention. It means having the courage to speak up when something’s wrong and it means having the energy and activism to support a leader or manager who’s doing things wisely and well.
4. Collaboration. In many ways, followers can "make or break" the leader influencing if and how goals are accomplished. In many business sectors, followers are the ones who are doing much of the creative work, although the leader may get most of the credit. Leaders who have been good followers understand how to work with people to bring out the best in them. Did Steve Jobs really create the iPod and iPhone, or was it the creative collective of team members at Apple? Today, leaders may be evaluated not only by how much is produced or achieved, but by the quality of the team or organization and its members.
5. Critical thinking. In order to be a good follower, you need to be able to think for yourself. The best followers support and aid the leader when he or she is doing the right thing, and stand up to the leader when he or she is headed in the wrong direction.
Many of the same qualities that we admire in leaders--competence, motivation, intelligence--
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