The Secret to Leading? Embracing Your Followers

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We all have things that we say so much that they become a coaching maxim. One of mine is “enough about leadership, we need followership classes!” We’ve got two groups of people on our teams: leaders and followers…and both groups need to be trained and respected. My response to captains who complain that the team isn’t following them has always been, “well, are you doing anything worth following?” because that’s what it comes down to…leading in a respectful and coherent manner. That brings me to this great video (you should check it out, it’s only three minutes long) by Derek Sivers called “How To Start A Movement”. In my mind, that’s what team leadership is about…starting a movement of belief in your leadership and your captains.

Here’s how to create a team of leaders and followers that are mutually respectful

1. Leaders needs to be brave. The example Sivers uses in the video is a guy dancing in a crazy manner at an outdoor concert. He says that a leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed…but also be easy to follow. That says to me that our leaders have to be comfortable in their skin and confident in their approach to leadership. Most importantly though, our team captains need to be consistent…that’s what will make them easy to follow. No matter how quirky they are, if their teammates know what to expect, then they will feel comfortable following them. But if you’ve got captains who are the team clown one day and the next day they won’t even speak to anyone because they’re grumpy…that’ll make them a whole lot harder to follow!

2. First followers should be enthusiastically embraced. Sivers calls the first followers an underestimated form of leadership. Why? Because they’re taking a risk. They are the person who transforms their teammate into a leader. Coaches can slap a “captain” title onto a player, but leadership is earned. If your captains truly embrace those first followers, then they’ve not only become a leader, but have also trained the rest of the team in what followership looks like. So if you’ve got new captains, or captains that are taking over after particularly popular captains graduate, or captains who’ve never held leadership roles before…this could be something that you talk to them about.

3. Followers follow followers. Here’s an interesting point from the video: followers don’t follow the leader, but rather, the other followers. That makes sense right, because there are only a few leaders, but many followers. Which makes that training of the followers even more important. If you’ve got poor dynamics between your captains and the rest of the team, it could be that they wielded their power in an inappropriate manner. That’s when you get teammates talking behind each other’s backs or a team that resists what captains are trying to do.

4. Following becomes the norm. Hopefully you’ve watched the video, because this is a particularly funny moment of the film. This is also the tipping point for your captains. It’s when following them is no longer a risk, so everyone jumps on board.

So there you go! Leadership and followership go hand in hand, let’s be sure to nurture both.