Followership is an impressive, dynamic and influential self-driven ability that can identify gaps and strengthen bridges with others. Relying on collaboration, this method of engagement presents opportunities for clear strategic alignment with leaders across all levels of an organization. Followership provides an expanded sense of ownership to the leader-follower dynamic.

True followership offers us a way to be fully present in our roles with our leaders without the sense of compromise that is often attached to engaging as a follower. Many leaders know how and when to lead, but not all of them demonstrate effective followership.

Followership involves taking initiative to go beyond understanding what you need in order to accurately interpret and provide what your leader needs from you. Moreover, when you have a great leader but aren’t feeling a high level of connection in spite of your efforts, followership can provide insight into what you need to rework in order to improve your partnership.

Like leadership, followership gives us the ability to influence others through attitude, approach and behavior. We’re in the driver’s seat, just in a different way — continuously working together to move the project, people and company forward. Looking out for the best interests of your leader from a followership perspective creates:

  • More meaningful and strategic interactions with your leader.
  • Opportunities to demonstrate your individual value within the team.
  • Innovative professional development and mentoring opportunities.

The Importance of Followership

Unlike leadership development, there often isn’t a loud voice advocating for followership development across the organization. Consider the bandwidth that your organization uses to promote and advertise leadership development resources, programs and courses. They’re probably easy to find and almost everywhere. Now, consider the amount of observable attention that followership has. It’s likely limited in comparison.

One of the few times we acknowledge and encourage follower development is through performance reviews. However, this approach limits the potential of followership, because it doesn’t give it the degree of attention or time required to engage us in understanding it and then to achieve visible results. It’s time to challenge ourselves to expand the traditional leadership development approach and work in elements of followership to offer integrated learning solutions to employees.

Every organization has a culture. Perhaps there’s even a subculture or community of leadership development already in place that aligns with our organization’s culture. When we start to unwrap and clarify the benefits of followership, we open the doors to new limitless possibilities for advancing the knowledge, skills and experiences of our employees and clients. By giving deliberate attention to, and trusting in, this process, we can create experiential learning solutions that optimize team efficiencies while maximizing development potential.

Developing Successful Followers

Including followership in our learning and development portfolios will create new avenues for knowledge and skills development that complement existing leadership development courses and programs. For instance, develop workshops and offerings that encourage the situational followership that can build new dimensions for team building, effective communication, mentoring, employee retention and professional development. Creating innovative ways for leaders to engage their staff from a followership perspective also supports greater alignment and productivity and improves overall leadership effectiveness.

Followership is about developing reciprocity, partnering for success and leading in a different way. This is new territory for many of us, and it’s one that deserves our time and attention in getting it right. To start with, consider:

  • Having learners work in pairs to introduce themselves and decide if they are better leaders or followers decide if they are better leaders or followers.
  • Conducting focus groups to explore preconceptions and impressions of followership at your organization and using the results to frame messages introducing followership.
  • Defining best practices for individuals to use with their leaders to encourage partnering for success and followership behaviors.

After building familiarity with the concept of followership, start including reflective exercises and assignments in your courses. For example, you may want to encourage participants to reflect on a recent dialogue they had with their leader. Invite them to:

  • Assess the interests of both stakeholders.
  • Identify how they, as followers, can “own” the moment.
  • Describe what they can do more or less of to strengthen understanding and move everyone closer to achieving their mutual goals.
  • Create shared lists of signs or cues to look for to reinforce activities.

Followership, like leadership, cannot be one-sided. We need to understand how and when to engage stakeholders in ways that promote continuous engagement, learning and support. As leaders, it’s about familiarizing ourselves with how we can encourage followership behaviors in ourselves and our staff. By engaging with our team members from a followership perspective, we can build trust, reciprocity and, ultimately, a more successful organization.