Nov 6 • 9M

Lessons in Followership Make You a Better Leader

Weekly Round Up 11.6.22

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Todd T. DeVoe
This podcast features strategies and advice from today’s leaders and experts in emergency management. Its purpose is to empower and enrich current and future leaders.
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Lessons in Followership Make You a Better Leader

I asked Todd Manns of The Blue Cell to speak to a master's class I am teaching, and as the class was in discussion, Todd dropped some wisdom on the students that I even had to write down. It was from leadership to Followership; we need to understand the Task, Purpose and end state of the mission we are on. That got me thinking. We talk a lot about leadership, but what does it mean to be a good follower?

I'd like to start our conversation here. To be a leader, you must commit to innovation and thought leadership. As emergency management leaders progress and lead throughout their careers, they often learn about leadership in professional development courses and on-the-job experiences.

They also learn about management based on their requirements to oversee the completion of essential workplace projects. However, we do not send emergency managers to training on how to be better followers. One of the first lessons I learned as a young sailor in BootCamp was instilled in me that being part of the team, we needed to know how to follow. Not just commands that are easy to do as you are told. However, have an understanding of the mission picture. Learning to follow is critical to successful leadership and how to better lead and manage followers. 

To be a well-rounded leader, emergency managers must know how to be better followers and lead and manage followers. If there are leaders and managers, there must be followers.

To best articulate the dynamics between the leader, manager and follower, let's define what these words mean based on their roles and processes:

  • Follower: A person who accepts guidance, command or leadership to assist in achieving goals and accomplishing tasks.

  • Manager: A person charged with impersonally enabling task execution or subsets of an organization.

  • Leader: Anyone who, by assumed role or assigned responsibility, inspires and influences people by providing purpose.

  • Followership: A reciprocal process of leadership. This term refers to the capacity or willingness to follow within a team or organization.

  • Management: An impersonal functioning process that controls and synchronizes internal structures, processes, procedures and systems.

  • Leadership influences people by providing purpose, direction and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.

Power and Influence

I have talked about the difference between the positional leader and the locker room leader often. Still, I have yet to articulate the difference between the locker room leader and how they are followers as well. 

A follower is a person who accepts guidance, command or leadership to assist in achieving goals and accomplishing tasks. Good leaders foster great Followership. It is a reciprocal process of leadership. Followership refers to the willingness to follow within a team or organization. The follower accepts their role in Followership based on two types of power from the leader or manager: positional power and personal power. Without power, there is no influence.

Leaders or managers use two types of power: positional and personal. Managers use more positional power, while leaders use more personal power.

Positional power is based on appointment, and an office held and hierarchical placement. Usually, managers have this positional power. They get things done based on compliance and resistance. In the military and para-military organizations, rank gives an individual positional power; however, this may not play out well with civilian organizations. Managers may use expert, referent and information power to apply soft application through ingratiation, peer pressure, personal appeal, emotional appeal, participation, consultation and coalition.

There is personal power based on charisma, knowledge, experience and performance. Usually, leaders have this personal power. They get things done based on engagement and commitment with the follower. On the other hand, Positional power is based on legitimate reward information and coercive power that uses hard application through punishment pressure, legitimate requests, imposed stress and direct oversight.

Know Your People

Being a better follower means being proactive and knowing how and what leaders and managers need to lead. This means anticipating future organizational needs and ensuring you support leaders' and managers' support or information requirements. Being a better follower is also a form of servant leadership.

Robert Greenleaf, who coined the term "servant leadership" and is the founder of the modern servant leadership movement and the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, said true leaders are chosen by their followers. Servant leadership understands the needs of others, up and down a chain in the organization, being available at the right level and mentally prepared to serve all others. Servant leaders exist at all levels, but one must be able to follow first. The better a follower can anticipate a need before it is even asked, the more successful that leader and led relationship remains.

A great follower has appropriate situational awareness of priorities and how to best support those efforts. The follower must be able to collaborate and have the ability to maintain good relationships with others up and down the leadership chain.

Followership is a crucial component of leadership, and that followers are not inferior to leaders. The article also notes that we need to give more credit to those who have excelled in Followership. As I was told in the Navy, the best followers make the best leaders because they view others as humans with similar struggles and shortcomings and value everyone's contributions to achieve goals.

Follower to Leader

In the long run, being a better follower will help everyone be better leaders and managers. Individuals can use their followers' experiences to optimize their leadership and managerial roles.

To that end, emergency management leaders must know how to develop followers. The concept of transformational leadership, described by leadership and organizational behavior scholar Bernard Bass in 1985, provides insight into how to grow followers. In his book Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations, Bass outlined the four I's: idealized influence, intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration and inspirational motivation. The four I's can be used to develop and empower followers to become leaders. Everyone can be improved as a follower, and organizations must engage in follower development to optimize having the best followers. 

The leader and the follower must have a basic level of trust. The best way to build this trust is to be candid even when delivering difficult news. Compassion is based on the leader truly caring for their followers. This requires being genuinely concerned for the well-being of followers and assuming responsibility for them. Leaders can improve stability by providing a solid foundation and knowing their followers' core values. This equates to followers feeling secure about their position. Hope is how leaders can instill their followers' enthusiasm about the future.

Emergency management leaders are often taught how to become better leaders and managers; the discussion about the importance of effective Followership and how to be better followers is absent. Leaders need to foster a sense of responsibility for being better followers to improve the follower's leadership and management skills. Leaders need to self-reflect on how they can improve on being a follower and how they can support their leaders and managers.

The best followers understand how their leader makes decisions, are aware of critical challenges their leader's faces and have a complete set of personal leadership skills that enable confident responses to what that leader or organization needs. A crucial part of being a good follower is practicing servant leadership. When acting with the intent to serve others, natural Followership emerges and further builds the organizational team at every level.


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