I’d like to follow-up with a bit more on the concept of ‘stellar followership’ mentioned 2 postings before this one:
[If you got here via searching the keyword, this article is NOT about social media ‘following’ or ‘friending.’ Here on Managing with Aloha we talk story about good work and great workplaces.]
The service stop, is also where I think about stellar followership, something we don’t hold in high enough esteem. To be a stellar follower, is to support a good and noble cause in an exceptional way. You need not be a founding father to put your own signature on an initiative, and make an outstanding contribution to it. Think about that phrase, ‘standing on the shoulders of giants.’ There are so many examples where the second generation of an initiative has been far superior to the first one. Followers are more likely to have the analytical, unemotional distance a founder is unable to have; they can be more objective. Objectivity doesn’t necessarily put a damper on passion and enthusiasm though: Stellar followers will be among the most devoted people you’ll ever meet.
— About Service, in Life’s 3 Stops in Motivation: Happiness, Meaning, Service
Wanted: Great Followers. Please Apply Immediately.
“Due to a shortage of devoted followers, the production of great leaders has been discontinued.”
I can’t remember where I first saw that poster, but I do recall posting it within one of my ‘Ohana Mālama newsletters once. ‘Ohana Mālama was the title of a weekly email I sent to my managers while working at the Hualalai Resort. The purpose of my newsletter was value alignment (our MWA Key 2); getting all of us on the same page during any given week.
I included the poster sentence for a touch of lighter humor; it was just meant to be a paragraph break between 2 other topics, neither of which I remember, for they burnt to a crisp as that poster quotation caught fire instead. Nearly every person receiving my email shot back a reply of some kind. As you might guess, the “Yeah! Too many chiefs, not enough indians” sentiment was there, but most of the replies were appreciative, in that they paid tribute to the blessing of devoted followers.
I’ve often wondered why we don’t elevate followership as much as we elevate leadership, for the evidence is quite clear that we want both, and we may want followership more. We understand that we need collective spirit in whatever initiative we pursue. We believe in the healthy sustenance that occurs when willingness, confidence and optimism collide and blend. We want to be followers when it feels right to us as the pure togetherness and camaraderie it can be, being in the company of a great team doing good work.
“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.”
— John Kenneth Galbraith
Or as General Douglas MacArthur put it, “Never give an order that can’t be obeyed.”
In Graceful Devotion to Cause
I imagine the graceful, lost in the music movements of dance when I think about the beauty in devoted followership. Picture ballet, Broadway, or contemporary dance for a moment: Graceful isn’t a ‘soft concept’ in dance, for those dance moves strengthen muscles and give the dancer marvelous flexibility.
The type of following most managers and leaders hope for is very passionate and emotional; it is devout about the cause of a mission, yet open to learning so that mission can be advanced in a progressive or inventive way. It’s engaging. Questions are never stifled. Like dance, it’s a followership that is smooth and fluid, and seemingly natural, yet it builds muscle and character. Like dance, it flows from pure human energy.
The distinction we often get lost within, is one where we lose sight of the cause, mission or vision, and focus on following another person instead. We march to the beat of their heart instead of dancing to the music in the beat of our own heart, and finding our own place in the chorus.
Following is intentional. Purposeful. Clear.
Devoted following cannot be a passive activity, not when action is required. It requires an intentional decision to take that action, and to feel your action has the integrity of the freedom of personal choice.
Devoted following within a cause will also call for specific focus and clarification, though we allow more freedom of choice in execution. What exactly are you following along with? What are you expected to say and do as a good follower — an ambassador of workplace effort? What part do you play in the efforts requested, putting your signature on your own role? How would you support another leader, and conversely, how would you detract from their cause?
We huddle, then we fan out to make our plays. We now know when we are expected to act alone, with initiative and independence (still in alignment with the cause). We now know when we are expected to cooperate and collaborate in the spirit of LŌKAHI, so harmony and unity is achieved (also in alignment to the cause).
Those intentional decisions, borne of best clarity, and best-possible followership, actually call for a self-reckoning before any following can happen. We must arrive at that huddle with readiness, to be woven in as part of it. Would you say that the decision-making of self-determination and commitment to definitive action are part of self-leadership? I would.
Admirable Following belongs in your Language of We.
Leaders may seem to be individual visionaries or cheerleaders (for that is what we often need from them), but at some point, they are looking to champion teamwork and entire movements. They fully realize (at least the smart ones do) that they cannot personally manage the masses they are hoping to marshal together and mobilize: They need the self-led believers among the troops, believers who have also become highly effective movers and shakers. They need those with the personal value-drivers of ALAKA‘I [leadership], KĀKOU [inclusiveness], and LŌKAHI [unity]. Core-to-cause messages are not diluted; they are fortified.
When you think about this, those who make the best followers have very distinctive value drivers, don’t they.
I named three of them. Can you think of others? What values do you feel will drive the best possible followers for your cause?
Let’s sum up: In our MWA initiatives with Purposeful Following, we will:
- Elevate following in the value-driven language of our own workplace culture.
- Talk about followership as something desirable, and as something strong. Give it the respect and dignity normally given to leadership and other admirable character traits. Reward it.
- Make it clear, and purposeful. Followership should not be fractioned, muddled or confused, for that leads to misdirected efforts, or worse, a mutiny (just ask Captain William Bligh).
- Associate following with mission and vision rather than with another person: There is always room in a cause for several great managers and leaders — so much can be done!
- When we do personalize followership, we will talk about it as a form of SELF-leadership, so people will cease to see it as a lowly station behind another titular leader.
As you know from our discussion on motivation, you will likely deliver a Service path or a Meaning path when you elevate followership in this way.
And I again recall the grace of the dancer. Looks like the bliss of joy and happiness to me.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 9 in Managing with Aloha on the value of KĀKOU:
The Language of We
Kākou is the language of “we.” And the language of we stimulates ownership and personal responsibility in the all-encompassing initiatives of a company. If you hear your employees talk about “our company” versus “the company” you know you’re on the right track. They feel they have a stake in what you do, and they take actions they believe are important and worthwhile. They are your partners, and these words of inclusiveness imply that they feel their voices and opinions are considered carefully in the decisions you make. The language of we is one of collaboration and partnership, and it also implies agreement and support of your vision. These are the words, the empowering force, and the strength of mind of Kākou. All of us. Kākou serves to give an affirmative voice to the unity you were able to achieve in your efforts with Lōkahi (Chapter 8).
… Read more: The Language of We