Home Leadership Followership: A Critical Skill to Be Learned

Followership: A Critical Skill to Be Learned

by Dr. Bruce Ellis

Whether you are looking at college applications or reviewing popular blog posts, it seems that leadership is the top skill that everyone wants to develop or improve. Ironically, though, most of the actual work in the world gets done by those who aren’t in leadership roles but who are, instead, followers. All of us, at one time or another, must be followers. However, few people talk about what it takes to be a good follower. What DOES make a good follower? And can followership skills be taught? Below are a few characteristics I would like to suggest that are critical for those who excel in followership.

Know Your Leader

Everyone has quirks or things “that make us tick.” Knowing these about your leader can help you be more successful when interacting with him/her. For example, if your leader is not a morning person, then you probably don’t want to schedule a 7:30 a.m. appointment to talk about some critical issues that have arisen. If he/she spends Friday afternoon reflecting on the week and strategizing for the next week, you may want to respect that time and see if you can get an earlier appointment that day. Is he/she a detailed reader? If not, provide your information in a concise way…possibly using bullet points or some other structure that makes processing your information easier and more efficient.

Know Who You Serve

Many times, the leader is looking at the big picture and seeing things from a 30,000-foot view, communicating the vision and direction. You, on the other hand, are in the trenches working to make the vision a reality. To best do that, you need to know who you serve so that you can make the vision relevant and meaningful to them. The better you understand your audience, their needs, desires, frustrations, and passions, the better you can codify the vision in language and work that make sense to them.

Look for Problem Areas

Unlike some folks who live to point out problems and complain about everything, someone with good followership skills looks for the problems so they can be addressed and averted, thereby giving their audience the best experience possible. So, while identifying problems, they are also generating potential solutions which can be tested and integrated into the process or system. Many times, these successes go unnoticed by leaders.

Provide Feedback

Just as a good leader should provide feedback to employees on how they can improve practice, a good follower should also have an avenue to provide feedback to his leaders. For as skilled as the leader is and as much as he/she may know, there are still blind spots and areas of weakness or bias that he/she may not be aware of. Be specific when providing feedback (view in the trenches), but also share the impact it has on the vision (30,000-foot view).

So, if you find that your inner voice is saying that you are not a leader, rejoice! That means you have the awesome privilege of demonstrating your followership prowess and modeling it for those around you. Be careful, though. You may find that in being a great follower, you will soon have folks looking to you as their leader.

What other skills should those in roles of followership possess? Jump in the comments below and add to my list from which other readers can benefit. Or, if you have a great story of how you have excelled in followership at one time or another, let us know. You can post it in the comments below or email me at bellis@tcea.org; I’d love to hear your story.


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