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  • Writer's pictureHouria Bellatif

Leadership and Followership: Ultimate Tug of War

There is a misconception that Leadership is a sure way to gauge one's success. Leadership, however, is not a one-way street. Leadership would be nothing without Followership. The latter is just as critical to success as Leadership itself.

Leadership cannot exist without Followership because there must be someone for the leader to lead. A leader needs followers to be effective. Followers are critical to Leadership because they provide the foundation upon which leaders can build. Leadership sounds more appealing and gratifying; it might even give a sense of power and validation. Can Leadership be all that without Followership? The simple answer is "No."

So, what is Followership? Followership has been defined in many ways, but at its core, it is about supporting a leader in achieving their goals. Effective Followership involves working together toward common objectives and being willing to put the leader's needs ahead of your own.

As you can see, Leadership and Followership are intertwined; one cannot exist without the other. Leadership is nothing without followers, and Followership is ineffective without a leader. And yet, Leadership gets all the hype and attention, and effective Followership is seriously underrated. I did a little experiment: Googling each word. Would you like to take a guess?

Leadership returned 4,890,000,000 results in 0.58 seconds while Followership returned a fraction of that, only 2,030,000 findings in 0.63 seconds. While the latter is a large part of Leadership success, related material and references available to the large public only represent 0.04% compared to Leadership related material. And for that, I feel we need to correct the false narrative that Followership has no glamour.

Some elements might feed this false narrative in organizations:

  1. It is sometimes believed that just because an individual contributor is performing well or competent, they will likely have the same success when promoted to a leadership position. It could not be far from the truth. Being an excellent follower doesn't guarantee one's success as a leader. Leadership is an entirely different skill set that requires competencies and abilities. The good news is that these skills can be learned (Be on the lookout for an upcoming post about that).

  2. It is presumed that everyone wants to advance to be a leader. While that might be true for some, others are great followers and would like to continue succeeding in that role or similar roles. Leadership might not be for everyone, and that should be okay.

  3. Some followers might seek a leadership position only because it is the only way to secure a compensation increase. In this case, the question is, should the organizational system find alternatives to attractive compensation and growth opportunities for non-leaders?

So the next time you find yourself in a leadership position, remember that your success depends on the quality of your Followership just as much as it does on your leadership skills. It is essential to surround yourself with followers who are just as committed to your success as you are to theirs. And you can show your support and help develop the greatest of followers when you:

  • Communicate your vision and objectives to your team. Make sure everyone is on the same page and knows what is expected and needs to be done.

  • Give people the autonomy to do their jobs. Earn to delegate effectively while building trust in that process. Nobody likes to be micromanaged.

  • Provide feedback and help people grow. Give credit where it's due and offer constructive criticism when needed.

  • Be a role model. Show your team what an effective leader looks like by leading by example.

If you're not in a leadership position, you should fully embrace that role and realize all the impact you have on the success of the Leadership. Here are ways you can excel as a follower:

  • Continuous learning. Things around us continuously evolve, and you should be willing to learn new things as an influential contributor.

  • Support your leader. Show them you're behind them and willing to do whatever it takes to help them succeed. And remember, you and the Leadership should work towards the same goals.

  • Take the initiative. Don't wait around for someone to tell you what to do. If you see something that needs to be done, do it.

  • Be proactive. Anticipate the Leadership's needs and take steps to meet them before they even ask.

  • Communicate effectively. Be open and honest in your communication. Keep your Leadership informed of any changes or developments that might affect them.

Leadership and Followership are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other, and the key to success is finding a balance between the two. When Leadership and Followership work together, they can create a powerful force to achieve great things.

It is a perspective that prompts me to research it more and study further. I know that I have more questions: What if we start changing the storyline and put Leadership and Followership on the same level? What if we invest in developing followership skills as much as we invest in leadership development? What would that look like? Are organizations ready for such a shift? Do we need to go through a Leadership renaissance before that happens?

I know these will be questions for me to ponder. If you have thoughts on the topic or are interested in further discussion, drop me a DM or contact me directly. I know this topic triggered my brain and emotions differently.

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