A leader has followers. This is the simplest fact about leadership – having followers.
Everybody wants to be a leader. Nobody wants to be a follower. This, inspite of being told that to lead, one must learn to follow.
I want to learn to follow. Not as a prelude to being a leader. In fact, I am assuming being a leader is beyond me. I want to be focussed on being a follower.Where do I begin?
Demand more out of myself than any leader would – I respect my leader and appreciate my leader’s burden. Surely, I can reduce it in my own small way. I can demand more out of myself than any leader does. That frees up my leader. Now, my leader no longer has to worry about me. All the time and energy invested in inspiring and guiding me can be channelised for a higher purpose!
Focus on the primary task more than anything else – When we discuss what is going on, I see how my leader has to take care of so many other things besides the primary task. My leader has to focus on how everybody is feeling and responding to whatever is happening out there.
The leader has to handle egos, respect sentiments, restrain emotions; be in control. This makes the leader set limits or boundaries on what can be said/not said, done/not done. Of course, this makes fulfilling the primary task more complex and challenging.
Me? What can I do? After all, I don’t have the leader’s ability. But, I am free! Unlike my leader.
Being free, there is one thing I can do, something simple and easy to do. Here it is. At every step, in every assessment, for every discussion; I unfailingly ask one question : ” Does this help fulfill our task? ” The ‘this’ in my question refers to whatever is the topic at hand. And if the answer is yes, I ask ” Can you please share how.”
I believe I am being a follower, and a good one at that. I am not challenging anybody. I am not saying who is right, who is wrong. I have a job to do. I focus on the primary task and keep my eye on it the way a good cricket batsman keeps his eye on the ball.
Ask for & remind myself of the purpose of it all – My leader never claims we are in it for the leader’s personal glory. I believe my leader. Ineffective followers stop here. Satisfied that the leader is not self-serving, they stop asking.
I am being ambitious. I want to be a good follower. So, I ask. What are we in it for? I believe it is not my leader’s personal glory. But then, what is it all about? What are we really after? Only my leader can offer an answer. But – and this is the crucial point – my leader can offer an answer only if I offer him my question.
What are we in it for?
When I get the complete answer, I know the purpose of it all. Why remind myself of it ?
For two reasons.
1) My leader is too busy fighting fires, handling crises and doing big things. My leader deals with change all the time. As a follower, what is within my grasp is not change, but continuity. Continuity of purpose. Continuity of task. I do not want to trouble my leader if I get stuck. Reminding myself of the purpose of it all helps me get unstuck.
2) When I last checked, my leader wasn’t immortal. Also, my leader deals with change all the time, and that includes a job change! If a new leader comes along, I might have to share the purpose of it all with the leader.
To sum up, being a follower, I
Demand more out of myself than any leader would.
Focus on the primary task more than anything else.
Ask for & remind myself of the purpose of it all.