Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Perspectives on Leaders and Followers

My inspiration for this topic came from reading the blog article by Bruce Mol, http://www.bmidd.com/ January 4, 2010 and then the linked article by John W. Gardner, The Importance of Followers, The Futurist, May 01, 1990. http://www.allbusiness.com/human-resources/employee-development-leadership/121760-1.html. They consider the role of follower from the individuals’ responsibilities and provide a perspective on followers for the leaders to consider.

I have also been following and participating in some online discussion groups that are debating the topic of leaders and followers. There are many perspectives and approaches to these discussions, some post from purely personal experience, some from a purely academic perspective, and some share their thinking from a combination of academics and experience.

I can not talk about the concept of followers without also considering the concept of leaders as the two are an inextricably linked system. Leaders shift from acting as leaders to acting as followers over time in different situations; leaders are also often followers at the same time as being leaders in different areas of their lives and within their workplace.

There are many different kinds of leaders and when you ask others to describe someone that they see as a leader in their life, you will get an array of responses. It seems fair to consider that while effective leaders share several important competencies, there are many valid approaches to leadership and which is appropriate at any given time depends on the situation.

This is also true of followers; one can choose to blindly follow a designated leader they believe is effective or feel they must follow unquestionably for safety reasons or in order to keep a job or other benefit that they derive from following that leader. These followers may be content with their situation and feel comfortable maintaining the status quo. They may also be unhappy with their situation and over time begin to undermine the leader or system they are in.

Followers can also choose, as Bruce notes in his blog, to accept responsibility for the experience they have regardless of what the leader provides. The choice to accept responsibility is a perhaps subtle but still valid form of leadership. By modeling this approach to being a follower one is setting a standard for others to consider. Accepting responsibility as a follower can take different forms, it can be as simple as choosing to recognize and be satisfied with the benefits of a given situation, which is appropriate for short-lived situations; it may take the form of challenging the status quo in a respectful and constructive manner; it may take the form of adopting lifelong learning as a means to eventually opting out of the current situation and into something that is better aligned with ones goals.