Aspire to lead, learn to follow first

Patience will bear its fruits

Written by Shelly Verma, Contributing Writer

Most human organizations (businesses, communities, countries) go to extraordinary lengths and invest huge amounts of money and effort on developing leadership. But, it is hard, near impossible, to find organizations that spares as much as a thought to nurturing a culture of ‘followership’. Undeniably, not many of us are even aware that such a word exists in managerial dictionary.

To stay way ahead in life and business, all we must do is churn out leaders. In an assessment of the modern day fixation with leadership, management expert Peter J Meindl wrote that “studies on organizational behavior have been conquered by the concept of leadership, which, as a result, has assumed a romanticized, larger than life role.” Nothing wrong with this, except for the fact that a fundamental step to leadership is in fact followership!

Followership implies voluntary conformity with organizational norms and practices; it involves adhering to and upholding a community’s core value system and moving step-by-step towards its collective goals. Active followership is the ability to effectively follow the directions and support the efforts of a leader to maximize the influence of a structured organization. The practice of falling in line with organizational directions is not to be mistaken for herd mentality. It’s a phenomenon of masses of people behaving in the same manner at the same time, without using their minds, under the compulsion of a dictator or pressure of peers.

[pullquote]Non compliance is among the biggest threats facing human organizations[/pullquote] Far from restraining imagination, followership is a force that maximizes the effect of individual genius by encouraging people to create, innovate and express themselves for the achievement of both personal and collective objectives. Conformity with organizational norms enables groups of people to pull their weight in the same, predefined direction; the weight here is individual, the movement collective. It is the interconnected march of a purposeful army, not the chaos of a mob. The command structure that armies live and die by does not throttle the creativity of the commander: it simply aggregates individual strengths into one big often enticing force.

Non compliance is among the biggest threats facing human organizations; one that could plunge them into chaos, especially as competition intensifies and a burgeoning population fights for the same, limited resources. It is in troubled economic environments, such as the one facing us now, that business cultures face their severest examination. Non-compliant human effort can unravel the ability of both businesses and nations to compete effectively and cope with uncertainties.

As organizations become more global and multi-cultural, dependent all the time more upon geographically dispersed offshore resources for cost leadership and competitiveness, they are more likely than ever to fall apart without the binding force of followership. Indeed, if individuals and  organizations mean to build and sustain their leadership in our times, then they must learn to move along well defined paths, hand in hand.

Leadership in highly competitive social environments necessitates maximizing individual prospectives and minimizing costs on non creative functions like controlling people’s conduct. This is why voluntary followership is such a key component of competitiveness: it helps organizations, communities and countries to cut cost on control functions, which are inherently negative and non-productive.

Today, millions of cases confront our courts and millions of people accused of crimes languish in our jails – the essential cost of controlling a non-compliant population is incalculable and in the end could prove to be our humiliation. If only our schools and colleges had accentuated more on the importance of respecting and “following” the laws, such wastage may well have been prevented and the weight of our unquestionable individual genius could then have translated into an overpowering collective force moving the nation towards leadership.

In conclusion, followership is not a sure-shot answer for success and every follower may not make a good leader. The fact, however, is that every leader, without a doubt, realizes the worth of good followership and what it takes to create it on a sustainable basis. There can hardly be leadership when followership is divided. As we move ahead, it may help to remember that getting ahead deep down entails getting together and engaging happily in active followership.

Shelly enjoys writing on various subjects including career moves, financeinsurance, and home improvement.

ARB Team
Arbitrage Magazine
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