Posted by: Ornella Farrugia
on Mon 04 Mar

At February’s Innovation Day, we welcomed Andy Wilkins, Visiting Fellow at Cass Business School.

If you were to do a Google search of the term “leadership”, you would find close to 500 million hits. Compare that to the term “followership,” and you’ll find just over 1 million. Perhaps you find this statistic largely unsurprising, after all, you don’t often see advertisements for seminars on “how to be a better follower!”. However, despite our preconceptions, followership is a topic which remains criminally underappreciated within the world of business.

“What makes a good follower?” is a question that raised debate, discussion and, to an extent, confusion amongst attendees of the February Innovation Day. Whilst the question “what makes a good leader?” seems obvious to many, the subject of followership is one which seemingly requires a deeper level of reflection; one which could well be indicative of a lack of appreciation for the topic.

A leader is only as strong as one’s followership and for this reason, it’s important to reflect on the personal characteristics followers regard as most salient to leadership success. Previous research has highlighted honesty, competence and an ability to be both inspiring and forward looking as the most desirable leadership traits. The question, however, remains:

How can we best ensure these qualities are being effectively demonstrated by leaders in the workplace?

Understand the needs of your followers. Ask not what your followers can do for you, but what you can do for your followers. Effective leadership is a reciprocal and personal process, as such, a knowledge and understanding of what makes you a credible and admired leader is key.

Remember credibility is a stock market. Doug Williamson (President and C.E.O. at The Beacon Group) described credibility as “the currency of leaders”, and just like any currency, its value can both quickly rise and fall. As such, it’s important to keep a close eye of your stock, because as anyone who works in financial market can testify, the value of stock can change in an instant, much like our credibility.

Clarify values. Whilst organisations frequently laud the importance of “values”, it’s important to realise that congruence between personal and organisational values is often difficult to achieve. As such, try to establish a middle ground in which you not only work in line with the organisation’s values but also what is most important to your followers. This has been found to be an extremely strong predictor in the achievement of work-related objectives.

Identify follower type. Research suggests that in additional to different leadership styles, there are also different follower typologies we need to consider in order to get the most out of our team.

Don’t become complacent. “If people don’t believe in the messenger, they won’t believe the message”. Leadership is a process that requires continual effort and refinement. More importantly, it’s a role which requires active investment in each of your followers. Be clear in your approach and ensure you get powerful buy-in of your vision from your followers. People are much more inclined to follow a clear path as opposed to relying on blind faith.

These are just some key highlights taken from February’s Innovation Day. Each month, clients of the Innovation Programmes receive a full ACT report, capturing the guest expert’s research, the implications and next steps for leaders to apply back in their team and organisation.

Next month, clients will learn more about the tools to identify their dominant leadership style and explore how to match their styles to the needs of the people they wish to influence. For more information, please view the Innovation Day page.

Sources: Wilkins, A. (2019) ‘Be a Leader People Want to Follow’, KnowledgeBrief Innovation Day Presentation, 13 February.

A leader is only as strong as one’s followership.

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