The art of followership is as just as relevant as the art of leadership. The typical follower dutifully accomplishes predetermined tasks by the leader without complaint or thought. However, followers can significantly influence their work cultures and bosses, just like leaders.
Indeed, there is an art to being a good follower. For starters, ingenuity and genuineness are subtle characteristics shaping how people perceive you as an employee, Soldier, or any other working professional. Beginning with those in mind helps clarify the theme of this post.
Here are three ways you can become a better follower.
Anticipate Problems And Inform Your Boss
I learned this one early in my Army career. I was in charge of planning and executing an exercise when one of our critical pieces fell through last minute. At that point, I needed to inform my boss about the problem and provide a solution. Luckily, with help from other staff members, we got the training back on track and finished everything.
The moral of this brief story is that whenever bad news came across my desk, I ensured to inform my boss AND provide one or several resolutions to ensure the problem got solved. So, ask yourself this question: does your boss want to hear about this issue from their superiors or you? Most likely, your boss wants to hear about potential problems from you.
Think about it this way; if you raise the issue in front of the boss with a proposed solution, you’ll most likely have more leeway to set your resolution in motion rather than having another imposed upon you.
Anticipating issues may be more challenging if you’re in a new role. Learn anything you can about your work environment. I talk to people about the potential problems they face and how they handle them. Also, reading good books on leaders helps shore up experience shortfalls you may have.
Nobody has the corner on the experience market. So, learn from anyone you can. Those conversations tally up to great knowledge banks later on.
Do Your Job Well
You may have eye-rolled on this one. However, I would argue that if everyone did the bare minimum, that organization would thrive. For instance, in the Army, most leadership challenges would resolve themselves if everyone accomplished the most simple Soldier tasks. For example, if Soldiers all passed their physical fitness tests, achieved their marksmanship requirements, attended their medical appointments, showed up to formation/work on time and with the right equipment, and set out to accomplish the daily tasks. These are the minimum requirements without adding any additional work to the list. Yet, leaders spend a great deal of time, effort, and resources to get Soldiers to the range, to a medical appointment, or to take a physical fitness assessment.
I had many conversations in my office with senior sergeants about how we would get three Soldiers to pass their physical fitness tests. Likewise, I had many more discussions on why Soldiers were not current on their marksmanship and medical appointments. Those discussions would be unnecessary because those tasks would have already been done. Then, leaders could fulfill other thoughtful goals to train and equip their Soldiers.
Applying effort to your job could be as simple as showing up to work on time with the right gear. Of course, some choose to go above and beyond, but if that’s not you, then there’s no harm. Do your job well, and you’ll see results.
Solve Issues At Your Level
Going back to the first section, your boss must know about the most pressing issues or friction points that may come. However, trivial problems that you can handle should stay with you. For instance, if you know you will expire on your medical appointments, make an appointment and return to your boss with the appointment date and time. Eventually, your boss will know that you did or did not make that appointment. But which would you rather have? A proactive approach informing a superior, or a reactive approach and being told to make an appointment? I would choose the proactive approach.
Indeed, good followers use their influence to improve their organizations. For example, I once worked with an individual who inventoried our unit’s equipment and handled supply issues. Some Army equipment is complicated to identify due to the uniqueness of various items and the complexity of the equipment. This individual took a piece of equipment with all its parts and created a better system to ensure the following inventory (and the ones after that) went smoothly. It was one of the easiest inventories I had ever done, and I was grateful that this Soldier took the time to solve an issue at their level.
The Army takes decentralized command very seriously. Early in my training days, I learned how to make decisions even when I was not in charge. Learning to recognize that power became enabling for me, and I adhere to that today.
The art of followership is still subjective. But, the best followers learn to read their environments and adapt accordingly. Likewise, anticipating problems, doing your job well, and solving issues at your level are universal concepts of being a good leader AND follower.
Linking these concepts together shows that leadership and followership are relatively similar. You can be your own leader and support your organization as a follower.
What do you think makes a good follower? Leave your response in the comment section below.
Thanks for reading!